How The Shutdown Happened Senators could not reach an agreement to avert a government shutdown that began Saturday morning.

How The Shutdown Happened

How The Shutdown Happened

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Senators could not reach an agreement to avert a government shutdown that began Saturday morning.


And our congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us in the studio.

Sue, thanks for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: How'd we get here?

DAVIS: Last night, Senate Democrats who, yes, are in the minority denied the Republican majority the votes they need - the 60 votes they need on legislation that would have kept the government running for four more weeks. Congressman Tom Cole has a point. There was nothing in the underlying legislation that Democrats opposed. Their votes in opposition were a bit of a leverage play to try and extract an agreement from President Trump and congressional Republicans on a bipartisan immigration deal.

SIMON: Leverage play is what I think the congressman called a gun to our heads. Right?

DAVIS: That would certainly be how Republicans view it right now.

SIMON: Yeah. What happens next?

DAVIS: Well, the government is partially shut down, but Congress will be in session. Late last night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his next move would essentially be to offer this same legislation but instead of a four-week stopgap measure, it would be a three-week stopgap measure. What is the difference? - you might be thinking. I can't...

SIMON: Well, five weeks. But yeah.

DAVIS: (Laughter) Seven days.

SIMON: Yeah.

DAVIS: I don't know if that is going to be what Democrats will agree to. This is the tricky thing about shutdowns. They're pretty easy to get yourselves into. They're kind of hard to get yourselves out of. If Senate Democrats are saying they won't vote to reopen the government until they have an immigration deal, this could be a while.

SIMON: Yeah. I heard Senator Cole kind of backing off from the whole wall from sea to shining sea idea. But I got to tell you, I still don't know what President Trump feels about that because he seems to have been all over the ballpark on that.

DAVIS: He has been all over the ballpark. The president has, without question, injected certain amounts of confusion into the negotiations over this immigration bill as it's played out over the last week and a half. Democrats certainly don't feel like they know where they are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was clear this week that Republicans were waiting for some clarity from their president on what he needs in a bill for him to sign it.

Chuck Schumer, who is the top Senate Democrat, last night on the floor said that in final negotiations ahead of the shutdown, he did offer the president more money for the wall in order to try and extract a deal. The White House rejected that. We are now in a situation where Democrats are saying, we won't vote to open the government until we have an immigration deal. And the administration is telling Congress, we won't talk to you on immigration until you reopen the government.

SIMON: So...


DAVIS: So the question is, what are the politics of this, right? You know, who gets...

SIMON: Well, I - and I was going to - in this day and age, Sue - correct me if I'm wrong - both sides are talking to pollsters and advisers trying to figure out, look, when do I feel a public crunch that I have to make some kind of deal? Aren't they?

DAVIS: Yes. You know, you will talk to Republicans and Democrats who will make very passionate cases that the other party will be to blame in this shutdown. I think shutdown politics are tricky. For one, we have a recent one in memory. The 2013 shutdown was largely driven by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a member of the Republican Party. Republicans were seen as responsible for that shutdown. They went on to win big in the following midterm elections.

So the idea that being seen as the party that shuts down government will have electoral consequences, I'm not so sure Democrats view it that way.

SIMON: Yeah. And the last shutdown lasted 16 days.

DAVIS: It lasted 16 days. If this one lasts as long as that, we will also be in a very interesting situation because President Trump's State of the Union address is 10 days from now. And I - my mind...

SIMON: Oh, my word. Can they have a State of the Union address if the government is shut down? I mean, there's no one to say (in affected voice) Mr. Speaker, the - right?

DAVIS: There's a question of who's an essential employee and who's a non-essential federal employee in a shutdown. I'm going to wager that your members of Congress are essential employees and they will be reporting to work as long as the government is shut down.

SIMON: Some citizens might wonder about the essential part this week (laughter)...

DAVIS: They will indeed.

SIMON: ...If they're asked. OK. NPR's Sue Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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