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Senate heads for uncertain vote to end shutdown as Day 3 begins

As the government shutdown entered its third day, the Senate headed toward a vote that would give time to negotiate contentious immigration issues.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to the Capitol
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to the Capitol as the Senate continues work on ending the government shutdown in Washington on Jan. 22, 2018.Shawn Thew / EPA

WASHINGTON — The Senate headed toward an uncertain vote Monday as the government shutdown entered Day 3.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote for noon on a short-term funding extension that would allow for three more weeks of negotiations on key immigration issues. But the vote's prospects for passage appeared dim as Democrats openly questioned whether McConnell's "intention” to bring up a vote on a bipartisan bill to address DACA is enough of a commitment to end the impasse.

A bipartisan group of nearly two dozen senators met Monday morning to continue talks on ending the stalemate.

"I think we just need a little bit more clarity," Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said as he walked into the bipartisan meeting.

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Afterward, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, an organizer of the meeting, said, "It would be helpful if Senator McConnell's language would be stronger."

McConnell said Sunday he intends to hold a vote on a range of issues, including border security and the future of those covered under DACA, the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which protects people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from being deported.

“Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on Feb. 8, 2018, assuming that the government remains open, it would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security and related issues," McConnell said. The other issues include defense spending and disaster relief.

McConnell sought to make assurances Monday morning on the Senate floor.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset, and an amendment process that is fair to all sides.” But he insisted that ending the shutdown was crucial. “It’s abundantly clear that the Senate cannot make progress on these crucial matters until the government is reopened.”

While McConnell’s pledge to move forward on immigration, even without a deal, was enough for two Republicans — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — to support the measure, it will take the support of at least 10 Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold, and it's unclear if that will happen.

Skeptical Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, want a promise from McConnell to hold a vote or a commitment to put controversial issues in legislation to ensure it passes the House of Representatives.

"What was offered last night by Senator McConnell on the floor seems clearly inadequate, an empty promise, and transparent ploy," Blumenthal said Monday in an interview on MSNBC. "It has no guarantee of a vote that would make protections for the Dreamers part of must-pass legislation."

"I have no confidence, zero confidence, that Paul Ryan will bring it to a vote in the House, and that is part of what I think is necessary," Blumenthal said, referring to the speaker of the House.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told reporters Monday morning that while he would vote for the funding extension to reopen the government, other Democrats wanted more assurances from McConnell. "They don’t think they have a commitment," he said of fellow Democrats, that "he will do what the discussions have been about."

"All they’re wanting is a guarantee that there will be a process because you’re going to deport a lot of children who don’t have any other home but America," Manchin said.

Monday's noon vote would reopen the government by extending funding for three weeks, until Feb. 8. It would also extend the low-income children's health insurance program, CHIP, for six years and suspend some taxes under the Affordable Care Act.