By KEVIN FREKING, ANDREW TAYLOR and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Restive Senate moderates in both parties expressed hopes of finding a way out of the government shutdown mess Sunday as their leadership engaged in unrelenting finger-pointing over who was to blame for the stalemate.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they were pursuing a deal to reopen the government before the start of the workweek Monday. In exchange for Democratic votes, GOP leadership would agree to address immigration policy and other pressing legislative matters in the coming weeks. Nothing has been agreed to, the lawmakers said, and there were no indications that leaders of either party or the White House was on board.
A stopgap spending measure was slated for a vote on Monday after midnight.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said there would not be a vote on immigration tied to reopening the government as part of a deal. But, he said, “there would be an agreement that we would proceed to immigration with a broad understanding of what that is.”
The approach found advocates in South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans. Lawmakers said they were taking the proposal to leadership Sunday afternoon.
Graham urged Democrats to take the deal. “To my Democratic friends, don’t overplay your hand,” he told reporters. “A government shutdown is not a good way to get an outcome legislatively.”
Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, indicated earlier Sunday that he would continue to lead a filibuster of the stopgap spending measure, while congressional Republicans appeared content to let the pressure build on the second day of the government shutdown.
Senate Democrats blocked a temporary governmentwide funding bill Friday night, demanding progress on legislation to protect about 700,000 so-called Dreamer immigrants who were brought illegally to the country as children.
“I think they miscalculated on the shutdown. It’s very unpopular, and they’re trying to find a way out of it,” said Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas.
Absent a breakthrough, the vote early Monday will prove to be a test of unity among Democrats, who have wagered shutting down the government to push the immigration question. Five Democrats from states won by President Donald Trump broke ranks in a vote Friday. The measure gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.
The president took to Twitter on Sunday morning to call on the GOP-controlled Senate to consider deploying the “nuclear option” — changing Senate rules to end the filibuster — and reopen the government with a simple majority.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back against that call, saying Republicans will welcome the filibuster when they return to being the Senate minority.
Democratic lawmakers challenged the president to get more involved and to accept bipartisanship, and they accused Trump of hurting negotiations by initially expressing support for a compromise Friday and then abruptly turning it away.
“How can you negotiate with the president under those circumstances where he agrees face to face to move forward with a certain path and then within two hours calls back and pulls the plug?” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on ABC’s “This Week.”
At the White House on Sunday, there were few signs of activity, as a skeleton crew of aides remained at work. Trump remained in regular contact with Republican leadership, aides said, but it wasn’t clear whether he had reached out to any Democrats over the weekend.
The shutdown began Saturday on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. As lawmakers bickered in the Capitol, protesters marched outside in a reprise of the women’s march from a year ago. The president remained out of sight and canceled plans to travel to his resort in Florida for the weekend. He did tweet, making light of the timing by saying Democrats “wanted to give me a nice present” to mark the start of his second year in office.
Republicans blamed the breakdown on Schumer, the Senate minority leader. Democrats increasingly focused their messaging on criticizing Trump, whose popularity is dismal. Democrats were using his zigzagging stance in immigration talks — first encouraging deals, then rejecting them — to underscore his first, chaotic year in office.
“People from one end of the country to the other know it’s the Trump shutdown, and they know why,” Schumer said Sunday. “It’s a direct result of a president who has proven unwilling to compromise and is thus unable to govern.”
Republicans seemed content to hope more Democrats will break as pressure builds and the impact of the shutdown becomes clearer. GOP lawmakers argued that Democrats were blocking extra Pentagon money by keeping the government closed and thwarting a long-term budget deal.
“Bipartisan, bicameral negotiations have been underway for months. But they can go nowhere until Senate Democrats realize that the extreme path their leader has charted leads them nowhere,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Some sites were closed, including Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, but visitors had access to other sites such as Yellowstone. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island would reopen for visitors Monday, with the state of New York picking up the tab for federal workers for the duration of the government shutdown.
Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.