Sen. Roy Blunt and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

“I wouldn’t think anybody would have another shutdown,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, pictured with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Blunt is one of the key border security negotiators. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Congress

The Senate GOP has no appetite for another political debacle and is pushing Trump away from closing the government again.

Senate Republicans can’t stomach another shutdown.

After weathering 35 days of a partial government closure, the Senate GOP is dreading the possibility another one will hit in less than three weeks — a sentiment that could prevent President Donald Trump from closing the government again.

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Though House Republicans aren’t ruling out supporting the president should he choose another confrontation over his border wall, the Republican Senate majority — which actually has governing power — has another view.

“I did not love the shutdown. I wouldn’t think anybody would have another shutdown,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the key negotiators trying to strike a deal on border security.

Most GOP lawmakers dutifully stuck with Trump in public as the partial government shutdown dragged on. But privately, Republican support began to crack as their polling and the economy both suffered. After a half-dozen GOP senators defected last week, Trump dropped his demands for border wall money before a full-scale revolt unfolded.

There is broad recognition within the administration, including on the president’s part, that shutting down the government is not an effective strategy for extracting concessions, according to White House aides.

But while White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump “doesn’t want to go through another shutdown,” she declined to rule it out if Congress doesn’t come up with a border security plan to Trump’s liking. Neither did House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump confidant.

The prospect of a second shutdown after the longest one in history is something Senate Republicans still take seriously despite rising hopes it can be avoided with a bipartisan border deal or even some sort of executive action by the president. Asked how seriously she is taking the potential for another funding debacle, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) replied: “Very.”

“I want to be able to say that: ‘no, it’s not possible that we would go back into another shutdown.’ But I didn’t think the first one that was 35 days was possible either,” she said.

Senators are already making calls to gauge what their fellow conference committee members might support ahead of their first meeting Wednesday. And Republicans writ large are touting the panel as a possible solution for the problem.

But if that committee fails, as many on the Hill privately believe is likely, Trump has touted two paths to again try to build his wall: a shutdown or a national emergency on the border.

“The preferred manner of going forward would be some type of executive action vs. shutdown. But that doesn’t mean that shutdown is off the table,” said Meadows, who helped push Trump to shut down the government in the first place.

Senate Republicans loathe both options, but for now, they’d choose almost anything over another funding lapse.

As Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) put it: “I don’t think we want to face another shutdown. And I certainly don’t think we want to have emergency action taken. So the president and Congress will have to come together.”

“It goes almost without saying that shutdowns are a very bad idea. And we should not use them as a political weapon,” Romney added, as he enjoyed his first day in the Senate with the government fully open.

“There’s a lot of lessons learned. Just like I learned in 1995 when I thought it was a good thing to shut down the government,” said Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior GOP senator. “Government’s a service for people of this country and they can’t be served when government’s not functioning.”

The Republican retreat from the border wall confrontation was evident on Monday not just among the rank and file.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) barely mentioned the standoff over the border, other than to ding Democrats for voting against a Middle East policy bill during the shutdown.

It seemed few Republicans had any desire to rehash the episode.

“There is little or no appetite for it,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Those who thought that shutdowns were a good idea have been disabused by that.”

Some Republican centrists are even suggesting that a bipartisan border agreement could withstand a veto threat.

“I think the committee will come up with a deal … If they come up with something that isn’t crazy, I think it’ll have enough votes to override a veto in the House and Senate,” Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho said Monday. Simpson is among at least two House Republicans who have drafted their own long-shot funding plans, ready to be unveiled in case border security talks collapse again.

“Because we’ve all learned, hopefully, that shutdowns don’t work, and they’re stupid.”

But even as some Republicans look to use their influence with Trump to nudge him away from another self-destructive shutdown, others are just as queasy about being at odds with the president.

Take Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection in 2020 and could face a tough Democratic challenge. She disliked the shutdown and said it made everyone in Congress look bad, but she was not among those thinking about bolting from Trump’s position last week before the president himself caved.

“We need to work with the president,” Ernst said Monday. “We need to have border security.”

Ernst’s view is even more broadly shared in the House, where following a House GOP leadership meeting on Monday, senior Republican lawmakers claimed they were ready for another shutdown if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer don’t give in on a border wall.

“I don’t think many people were moved in this shutdown on the left or the right,” added Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). “Everyone felt justified in their position, and there’s not a great deal of learning that occurred.”

Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), top Republican on Appropriations Committee, said Trump shouldn’t take a shutdown off the table at this point. “Maybe moving forward after this, but not right now,” Granger said.

Among hard-line conservative Republicans who urged Trump to use a shutdown to pressure Democrats, there is no doubt what the president should do: keep the pressure on Democrats to deal. And if they don’t, then Trump can consider declaring a national emergency or some other option.

“We’ve got three weeks here to see what we can work out,” said House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.). “I think everybody would like to be able to work something out. But it’s gonna depend on the Democrats.”

If a second shutdown is truly looming, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said Congress should pass stopgap funding bills every day to protect federal workers while keeping the pressure on Congress to strike a deal.

“I hope that is the case, and people have learned the lesson not to do this, that nobody wins in a shutdown.” Reed said, referring to the short-term funding bill that Trump signed on Friday.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who was among the few Republicans to support Democratic funding bills to reopen the government this month, acknowledged that nobody wants another shutdown. But he said Democrats — specifically, Pelosi — would take the heat this time if the border security talks collapsed, despite polls consistently showing the public sided with Democrats.

“It’s on them. They’re the ones who said reopen the government because we’ll come and tell you what we want,” Davis said. “Republicans and the president moved. They did what Speaker Pelosi asked.”

McHenry warned not to read too much into polls showing Trump was hurt by the shutdown: “So to say that is going to have some lasting impact is not commensurate with the last two years of experience.”

Senate Republicans would disagree. They face a more difficult Senate map in 2020 than they did last year and could be dragged into the minority if Trump’s popularity collapses. And if in two weeks the conference committee isn’t going anywhere, they’re the ones that will have to put a bill on the floor to fund the government — and potentially shirk Trump’s demands for the wall.

Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.

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https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/28/government-shutdown-republicans-trump-1133101

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