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Trump warns shutdown could last 'very long time,' urges McConnell to go 'nuclear' and end filibuster

"Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!" Trump tweeted.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker at the White House on Dec. 18, 2018.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Friday said the chances of a partial government shutdown were "very good" after meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House.

He called the meeting with GOP lawmakers "great," and said, "Now it's up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight."

"I hope we don't," Trump added in remarks at a bill signing event at the White House. "But we are totally prepared for a very long shutdown and this our only chance that we’ll ever have in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security."

"One way or the other, we are going to get a wall, get a barrier, we're going to get anything you want to name it," the president said.

Earlier, Trump had warned Senate Democrats that if they don't vote for his border wall, there would be a government shutdown beginning Friday night. And he pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to use the "nuclear option," which would end the right to filibuster legislation in the Senate and allow the bill to pass with a simple majority.

The "nuclear option" refers to a last-resort way for the majority party in the Senate to overcome objection by the minority, and it involves using a simple majority of 51 votes rather than 60.

McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor after the meeting with Trump, voiced support for the House-passed bill with the $5 billion in border wall funding and what he called “much-needed investments in disaster relief for hard-hit communities.”

“I support the additional border security and disaster aid that the House added to the bill and I’m proud to vote for it,” he said.

“Let's advance this legislation,” he said, just before the Senate began voting on a motion to proceed. This vote only needs a simple majority, and would start proceedings on the bill, but is not the key vote that requires 60 votes to advance the legislation. As of Friday afternoon, it wasn't yet clear whether that motion to proceed would pass or fail as the vote taking period was extended to give absent members time to return to Washington.

Schumer, in his own remarks on the Senate floor, called the motion a "pointless exercise" and told Trump that Democrats weren't budging.

"There are not the votes in the Senate for an expensive, taxpayer-funded border wall. President Trump, you will not get your wall. Abandon your shutdown strategy. You're not getting your wall today, next week or on Jan 3," Schumer said.

McConnell signaled earlier that he was unwilling to cave on the issue of the filibuster, despite Trump's goading.

"The Leader has said for years that the votes are not there in the Conference to use the nuclear option. Just this morning, several Senators put out statements confirming their opposition, and confirming that there is not a majority in the conference to go down that road," McConnell's spokesman, David Popp, said in a statement.

A number of Republican lawmakers said on Friday that they don't support doing away with the legislative filibuster.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is retiring this month after serving four decades in the Senate, recalled his long history of using and supporting the filibuster to great effect.

Hatch's Twitter account flashed back to 1978, and tweeted a quote from him speaking in 2016: "I'm one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster," he said. "It's the only way to protect the minority, and we've been in the minority a lot more than we've been in the majority. It's just a great, great protection for the minority."

"The Senate filibuster is about the only mechanism left in Washington that brings the parties together. Deploying the nuclear option would blow that up," retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on Twitter. "I will not vote to do it."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who recently announced he won't run for re-election in 2020, also vowed not to vote for such a change.

"We are a nation that prizes the rule of law. How can we expect Americans to follow the rules when their number one rule making institution, the U.S. Senate, will not follow its own rules?" he said in a statement.

"We have rules to follow. I want to put a stop to this practice of the Senate breaking its rules to change its rules. I will not vote to turn the Senate into a rule-breaking institution and I hope that my colleagues will not."

McConnell said in May 2017 that triggering the "nuclear option" in order to pass legislation was "not going to happen" because doing so would fundamentally change how the Senate operates.

The new stopgap spending measure, which passed the House on Thursday night by a 217-185 vote, includes more than $5 billion for the president's long-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

At least one least Republican, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., a member of the Appropriations Committee, advocated that the Senate eliminate the right to filibuster legislation in order to pass the bill — a notion Trump thanked him for on Twitter Friday.

But the measure's already-low odds in the Senate had fallen even further by Friday afternoon as the shutdown deadline looms. Parts of the government are set to run out of operating authority after Friday, and Trump warned in a tweet that "if the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time."

Schumer, speaking with reporters at the Capitol earlier Friday, said there are three offers on the table for Trump that would avert a shutdown.

"He ought to take one of them," he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Friday that the White House should have just told lawmakers directly that it opposed the Senate's version of a short-term spending bill — which did not include $5 billion in border wall funding — before "we wasted time voting on it" on Wednesday.

It's not about the wall, Rubio said on Twitter, but how Democrats are denying the president "a win."

In his tweets Friday morning, Trump placed the blame for a shutdown solely on Democrats, despite saying in a highly unusual public spat with Schumer and Pelosi last week that he would "take the mantle" of a government shutdown if Congress didn't give him funds for the border wall he vowed Mexico would pay for.

When asked by reporters why the president is now labeling the possible shutdown a "Democratic shutdown," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said only: "The House has passed it. The president supports it. We have legislation on the floor that everybody should be behind."

At the White House bill signing, Trump continued to point fingers.

"We are going to be working very hard to get something passed in the Senate there is a very good chance it won’t get passed, but it's up to the Democrats, so it's really the Democrat shutdown," Trump said.

Pelosi pushed back not with a statement, but simply a video clip of the president from their meeting last week.

"I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it," Trump told the Democratic leaders.