WASHINGTON – House Democrats will immediately put their new political power to the test on Thursday by moving to reopen the federal government, setting up a confrontation with President Donald Trump as a partial government shutdown enters its 13th day.
Democratic leaders have scheduled a pair of votes on a package of bills to end the shutdown and give Congress more time to negotiate a deal with the White House over border funding.
The votes will come shortly after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi returns as House speaker and Democrats reclaim the majority for the first time in eight years.
But even if the bills are approved, as expected, the shutdown will likely go on. The package still must clear the GOP-controlled Senate, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he won’t call for a vote on legislation to end the standoff unless it has Trump’s backing.
Trump already has denounced the Democratic plan because it lacks money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. And at the White House on Wednesday, he showed no signs of backing down.
Asked how long the shutdown might last, Trump told reporters, “As long as it takes.”
Nine federal departments and several smaller agencies – representing a quarter of the federal government – shut down on Dec. 22 when their funding lapsed and congressional Democrats and the White House failed to strike a deal to keep them open.
The sticking point has been Trump’s insistence on $5 billion in funding for a border wall, even though he promised repeatedly during his presidential campaign that he’d make Mexico pay for the structure.
In a last-ditch effort to keep the government open, the House voted in late December, largely along party lines, to give Trump $5.7 billion for the wall in one of the then-GOP majority’s final acts. But that measure never got a vote in the Senate, guaranteeing the shutdown would begin two days later.
One of the bills that the new Democratic majority will push on Thursday would fund all shuttered departments except for Homeland Security through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security through Feb. 8, buying lawmakers and the White House more time to resolve their standoff over border wall funding.
Meanwhile, the shutdown’s impact is starting to become more visible in many places following the holidays, when most government offices were already scheduled to be closed.
In Washington, the Smithsonian Institution closed 19 museums and the National Zoo on Wednesday because of a lack of funds. The Smithsonian had been able to remain open through Jan. 1 by using previous year funding.
Some national parks reported human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior. The shutdown has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees, leaving many parks without most of the rangers and others who staff campgrounds and otherwise keep parks running. Joshua Tree National Park in California closed its campgrounds after the loss of sanitation workers resulted in overflowing toilets.
Thousands of federal workers who have been placed on furlough or forced to work without pay are starting to wonder when they will see their next paycheck. In the past, including the 16-day shutdown in 2013, federal workers received back pay. But there’s no guarantee that will happen this time because it requires Congress and the White House to work together to pass a law mandating the back pay.