From Day One of the longest government shutdown in history, Democrats have stuck to their guns: First, open the government. Then negotiate over border security. Their unwavering message has been that the president must not be allowed to hold federal workers “hostage” to get what he wants. Shutdowns must not be rewarded as a political tool.
On Thursday, Democrats will have an opportunity to put this reasoning to a test in the Senate, where lawmakers will vote for the first time on reopening the government since the partial shutdown began more than a month ago. Senators will vote on dueling measures: President Trump’s plan, which would fund the government through September and includes $5.7 billion for a wall; and the Democrats’ plan, which would fund the government through Feb. 8, allowing time to negotiate border security. It has no wall money.
Both measures seem destined to fail in the polarized Senate. But even if Democrats prevail in their demand, it’s far from clear that this stand would deter future shutdowns. Government closures have become weaponized, observers say, and that’s not likely to change. Indeed, just one year ago, Democrats themselves forced a shutdown, though brief, over immigration.
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The Democrats’ demand to open the government first is “just part of the game,” says Patrick Griffin, who was legislative director for President Bill Clinton during the previous record-holding shutdown of 21 days. “It works until it doesn’t work,” he says. “You use it when it serves your purpose.”
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