Later today, both parties will float their official shutdown-standoff positions in two Senate bills, test votes that are both certain to fail. However, they will give a hint as to which Senators feel vulnerable on this issue. The Denver Post editorial board gives us the first Republican waverer — Cory Gardner, who will face a tough re-election campaign next year:
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s spokesman told us Wednesday he intends to vote for a clean funding bill that would open the government with no increased border-security funding attached.
It’s the right thing to do. …
Gardner’s spokesman said Wednesday night that the senator has long opposed shutdowns, including the 2013 shutdown. He said Gardner will also vote for the second measure to open the government.
It’s a smart move, and probably one at least tacitly endorsed by Mitch McConnell. Gardner barely beat incumbent Mark Udall 49/46 in 2014, and that was in a GOP wave election. Last November, Democrat Jared Polis won the gubernatorial election by ten points over the GOP nominee, and Democrats flipped CO-06 in the House. The electoral prospects for a second term look bleak unless Gardner can show some independence from Republican leadership. McConnell needs a Gardner victory to have any chance of keeping control of the upper chamber into 2021.
“This is exactly the press Gardner needs in Colorado,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan observed shortly afterward. Don’t think for a moment that Gardner and McConnell don’t know it, either.
It’s a symbolic gesture anyway, one that won’t make a whit of difference in the eventual outcome. Schumer would need 13 Republicans to cross over and pass his clean funding bill, which has as much likelihood as seven Democrats crossing over to pass McConnell’s. The point isn’t to pass one or the other, but to get past both positions so that real negotiations can begin:
The votes will test the abilities of McConnell and Schumer to unify their sides, and likely, to negotiate with each other afterward. In other dramatic fiscal showdowns over the past decade, the Senate has almost always been the chamber that found the bipartisan solution as the House hit roadblocks, from the Wall Street bailout of 2008 to reopening of government after the 2013 shutdown. But those were crises that predated President Trump’s mercurial presidency.
In effect, the defeat of both measures would demonstrate in the most concrete manner yet that what both sides have been pushing for is not possible in the Senate, and that some new compromise must be forged to pass the chamber.
Such a scenario might entice Trump to offer more concessions to Democrats while serving as a counter to Democrats’ insistence that there is overwhelming support for their plan, according to a Senate Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Let’s not forget how we got even this far, however. Donald Trump’s decision to offer a substantial concession in exchange for the border-wall funding forced Democrats to negotiate, as I write in my column at The Week:
By making the first move, Trump also created an opening for a response to his proposal, which raised expectations of a revised negotiating position from Democrats, especially with the potential for a key agenda victory on DACA. Trump traded a little leverage for a little more public pressure, in effect.
At first, Democrats failed to recognize that trap. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted she would not negotiate at all while the government is shut down, a position she undercut by also insisting she wouldn’t negotiate on border-wall funding at all, shutdown or no shutdown. Pelosi tried holding the line by warning her caucus against “freelancing” on the standoff and sending signals of disunity. Pelosi even went so far as to formally reject Trump’s plan to deliver the State of the Union address in a joint session of Congress next week.
But by that time, other members of Democratic leadership had already started “freelancing” and exposing cracks in Pelosi’s no-talks armor. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), when asked by Fox’s Neil Cavuto whether he would vote for border-wall funding, conceded that “physical barriers are part of the solution.” A week earlier, Hoyer had insisted he would oppose such funding. The next day, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) offered to give Trump the $5.7 billion he requested for more border security as long as it wasn’t spent on the wall. “If his $5.7 billion is about border security,” Clyburn remarked, “then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall.”
For a party that insisted it wouldn’t negotiate during a shutdown, those sound an awful lot like negotiations. But in light of Trump’s substantial concession on Saturday, Democrats have little choice but to update their position.
Everything up to Trump’s concession was Kabuki theater. Granting the first counter-offer may not be very Art of the Deal-ish, but it forced the issue back into talks on terms which favors some sort of win for Trump.
Update: Gardner will have some Democratic company:
NEW: Sen. Joe Manchin says he will vote this afternoon for both bills intended to end shutdown.
— ABC News (@ABC) January 24, 2019
Manchin just won re-election, but it’s still essentially the same game. Both men are burnishing important bipartisan credits for later deployment.