Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, walks into his office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

McConnell to Allow Votes on Competing Bills to End Shutdown

(Bloomberg) -- Senate leaders have agreed to votes on rival proposals for reopening the government for the first time since the shutdown began last month, though it’s not clear either measure can pass.

Lawmakers on Thursday will hold separate votes on President Donald Trump’s plan that includes $5.7 billion for border wall funding as well as a Democratic proposal that would reopen shuttered agencies through Feb. 8 while both sides seek consensus on how to better secure the border.

The plan to proceed with the votes was announced Tuesday on the Senate floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and it marks the first attempt at finding a path out of the shutdown since bipartisan talks at the White House collapsed two weeks ago.

Yet Trump has threatened to veto any measure that doesn’t fully fund his wall. Democrats likely have the votes to block Trump’s bill, and the Democratic proposal would need to win support of 13 Republicans along with every Democrat just to take up the bill.

Schumer said the Democratic plan has the benefit of ensuring federal workers get paid and that agencies restore services, even if just a few weeks of operations would be guaranteed as negotiations continue.

“It will allow us to then debate -- without hostage-taking, without temper tantrums, without anything -- how we can best do border security, get that done hopefully by February 8th, and keep the government open,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

McConnell called the White House plan a “bold, comprehensive” offer and the only one Trump is likely to sign. Schumer’s proposal passed the House this month, but with a veto threat from the White House.

Republican Defections?

There is some prospect of Senate Republican defections in favor of the Democratic plan when the votes occur later this week. Some Republicans in the chamber -- including Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- have been pressing for action that would end the shutdown now in its 32nd day, at least temporarily.

But unless Trump changes his opposition it could be hard to get the votes to override his veto. It would take 20 Republicans in the Senate to vote with all 47 Democrats to reach a two-thirds vote for an override. In the House, 237 lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation, well short of the 290 needed to override a veto in that chamber.

Trump’s proposal faces strong objections from Democrats who oppose the wall and some immigration law changes that include new asylum limits for Central American minors.

The Trump bill includes a provision to ban nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras who are under 18 years old from eligibility for asylum unless they submit applications at a processing center in Central America. That means they cannot apply in the U.S. if they flee their home countries due to gang violence, as many have done.

As an olive branch to Democrats, the Trump proposal also includes provisional three-year work permits for young undocumented people currently enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and those who have Temporary Protected Status. Trump has sought to end both programs.

However, the new legislation would only apply the DACA extension to those young immigrants currently receiving protections, and not those who might be eligible to qualify, as would be allowed under a previous bipartisan proposal called the Bridge Act. The new legislation would leave out hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

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