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Senate Sets Up Shutdown Votes          01/23 06:17

   Senate leaders agreed to hold votes this week on dueling proposals to reopen 
shuttered federal agencies, forcing a political reckoning for senators 
grappling with the longest shutdown in U.S. history: Side with President Donald 
Trump or vote to temporarily end the shutdown and keep negotiating.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate leaders agreed to hold votes this week on dueling 
proposals to reopen shuttered federal agencies, forcing a political reckoning 
for senators grappling with the longest shutdown in U.S. history: Side with 
President Donald Trump or vote to temporarily end the shutdown and keep 
negotiating.

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up the two showdown votes 
for Thursday, a day before some 800,000 federal workers are due to miss a 
second paycheck.

   One vote will be on his own measure, which reflects Trump's offer to trade 
border wall funding for temporary protections for some immigrants. It was 
quickly rejected by Democrats. The second vote is set for a bill approved by 
the Democratic-controlled House reopening government through Feb. 8, with no 
wall money, to give bargainers time to talk.

   Both measures are expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass, 
leaving little hope they represent the clear path out of the mess. But the plan 
represents the first test of Senate Republicans' resolve behind Trump's 
insistence that agencies remain closed until Congress approves $5.7 billion to 
build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. For Democrats, the votes will show 
whether there are any cracks in the so-far unified rejection of Trump's demand.

   Democrats on Tuesday ridiculed McConnell's bill, which included temporarily 
extended protections for "Dreamer" immigrants but also harsh new curbs on 
Central Americans seeking safe haven in the U.S.

   Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP plan's 
immigration proposals were "even more radical" than their past positions.

   "The president's proposal is just wrapping paper on the same partisan 
package and hostage taking tactics," offering to temporarily restore programs 
Trump himself tried to end in exchange for wall funding, Schumer said.

   McConnell accused Democrats of preferring "political combat with the 
president" to resolving the partial federal shutdown, which stretched into its 
33rd day Wednesday. He said Democrats were prepared to abandon federal workers, 
migrants and all Americans "just to extend this run of political theater so 
they can look like champions of the so-called resistance" against Trump.

   The confrontational tone underscored that there remained no clear end in 
sight to the closure. Amid cascading tales of civil servants facing 
increasingly dire financial tribulations from the longest federal shutdown in 
history, the Senate chaplain nudged his flock.

   "As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for another painful 
payday, remind our lawmakers they can ease the pain," Chaplain Barry Black 
intoned as the Senate convened.

   The upcoming vote on the Democratic plan marked a departure for McConnell, 
who had vowed to allow no votes on shutdown measures unless Trump would sign 
them.

   The White House views its latest offer as a test of whether Democratic 
leaders can hold their members together in opposition, said a person familiar 
with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. The 
administration also wants to show they are willing to negotiate, hoping it will 
push more blame onto Democrats, who are opposing negotiations until the 
government reopens. Public polls show Trump is taking the brunt of the blame 
from voters so far.

   "How long are they going to continue to be obstructionists and not solve the 
problem and not reopen the government?" White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee 
Sanders said of Democrats.

   One freshman, Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, a state that's home to 
many federal workers, was circulating a draft letter Tuesday urging Pelosi to 
propose a deal that would reopen the government and then consider border 
security legislation --- including holding votes on Trump's demand for wall 
money --- by the end of February. A similar effort was under way last week by a 
bipartisan group of senators.

   As the stalemate grinded on, Alaska Airlines said the closure would cause at 
least a three-week delay in its plan to start new passenger flights from 
Everett, Washington. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association 
of Realtors, said the shutdown could slow home sales by 1 percent in coming 
months. And a restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, owned by musician Jon Bon 
Jovi joined the list of establishments serving free meals to furloughed federal 
workers.

   McConnell's bill largely reflects the proposal Trump described to the nation 
in a brief address Saturday. It would reopen federal agencies, revamp 
immigration laws and provide $5.7 billion to start building his prized border 
wall with Mexico --- a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful 
monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

   Republicans posted the 1,301-page measure online late Monday. Its details 
provoked Democrats, particularly immigration provisions Trump hadn't mentioned 
during his speech.

   The measure would provide a three-year extension of protections against 
deportation for 700,000 people covered by the Delayed Action for Childhood 
Arrivals program, or DACA. Democrats want far more to be protected --- Trump 
last year proposed extending the safeguards to 1.8 million people, including 
many who'd not yet applied --- and want the program's coverage for so-called 
"Dreamers" to be permanent.

   Trump has tried terminating the Obama-era DACA program, which shields people 
brought to the U.S. illegally as children but has been blocked by federal 
judges.

   The GOP bill would revive, for three years, protections for people from El 
Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua who fled natural disasters or violence 
in their countries. Trump has ended that Temporary Protected Status program for 
those and several other countries.

   Republicans estimated the proposal would let 325,000 people remain in the 
U.S. But the GOP proposal contains new curbs, providing those protections only 
to those who are already in the U.S. legally and who earn at least 125 percent 
of the federal poverty limit.

   The bill would also, for the first time, require minors seeking asylum from 
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to process their applications at facilities 
the State Department is to establish in several Central American countries. 
Other new conditions include a limit of 15,000 of these minors who could be 
granted asylum. Currently, many asylum seekers apply as they're entering the 
U.S. and can remain here as judges decide their request, which can take several 
years.

   As a sweetener, the Republican measure also contains $12.7 billion for 
regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. The Democratic bill 
also includes the disaster aid.

   One White House official said Trump was open to counter-offers from 
Democrats. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private 
conversations, said Trump was also willing to use his proposed temporary 
extensions for "Dreamers" as a way to seek long-term deal.

   The official said Trump would be willing to seek at least permanent legal 
status for "Dreamers," but probably not a path to citizenship.

   Democrats have refused to negotiate until Trump reopens the government. 
Trump is worried Democrats won't agree to a wall compromise if he relents, 
while Democrats say Trump would use the shutdown tactic again if it works.

   "If we hold the employees hostage now, they're hostage forever," House 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters.


(KA)

 
 
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