Democrats are taking the gloves off.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear Monday he will block a key foreign policy bill from becoming law until Republicans agree to stand up to President Trump and back measures to end a crippling government shutdown that’s on track to become one of the longest in American history.
A senior Democratic aide said Schumer (D-N.Y.) informed his caucus that he will vote no on the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” a sweeping appropriations bill that earmarks more security funds for Israel, reauthorizes a defense cooperation agreement with Jordan and boosts other U.S. missions in the region, including in Syria. The bipartisan legislation also permits state governments to divest from entities boycotting Israel because of its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.
Schumer and most Senate Dems support the bill, but the aide said the party won’t do business as usual until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stops caving to Trump’s demand for a taxpayer-funded border wall and instead introduces a House-approved spending package that could end the partial shutdown, which entered its 17th day on Monday.
“This is to show that they can’t just skate along as usual,” the Dem source told the Daily News.
The Capitol Hill insider added Schumer is considering blocking other bills as well if McConnell tries to “distract” from the shutdown by moving on to other matters.
The Senate is slated to hold a procedural vote on the pro-Israel bill late Tuesday. Dems can derail the measure if they unanimously oppose it.
The longest U.S. government closure to date lasted 21 days in 1995. This shutdown will become the longest ever if it drags beyond Friday.
Some 800,000 federal employees continue to work without pay or not work at all. Everything from national parks to airport security have been impacted and food stamps could become the latest casualty if the shutdown runs into February, with millions of low-income Americans slated to see their welfare assistance substantially slashed if the government isn’t funded.
Democrats, who remain resolute on not giving Trump a dime in wall cash, passed a bipartisan bill in the House last week that would give eight of the shuttered Cabinet departments full fiscal year funding while the Department of Homeland Security would be reopened on current spending levels through Feb. 8. That way, Dems argue lawmakers can continue to discuss disagreements on Homeland Security spending without holding the government and the livelihood of government workers hostage. McConnell himself previously supported the legislation.
But Trump — who wants at least $5 billion in taxpayer cash for a border wall he used to promise Mexico would pay for — unexpectedly threatened to veto the measure and McConnell subsequently refused to put it up for a vote, saying he won’t advance something the President isn’t committed to signing.
Democrats have ripped McConnell as a coward for ceding power to Trump.
“The Senate should not take up any bills unrelated to reopening the government until the Majority Leader lets us vote on exactly that,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) tweeted. “This is not business as usual. This is a crisis and a failure to govern. Dozens of government agencies are shut down. We must reconcile that first.”
A spokesman for McConnell wouldn’t address the shutdown stalemate but took a shot at Schumer over his readiness to pull support for the defense bill.
“It would be a real surprise, and send a terrible message to a key ally, if Sen. Schumer was to suddenly reverse himself and block security aid to Israel,” the spokesman said.
Trump, meanwhile, appeared unperturbed by the bureaucratic headache and announced he will jet off to the U.S. southern border on Thursday to meet with federal agents instead of staying in Washington to hash out an end to the shutdown. Exactly where Trump will travel was not immediately known, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pledged to provide more details “soon.”
The President also teased a televised speech he’s planning for Tuesday.
“I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border. Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern,” Trump tweeted.
The White House was reportedly pitching major networks about having Trump’s address be aired in full in one of their primetime spots. None of the networks had made any announcements on the matter as of Monday afternoon.
Amid the shutdown stalemate, the President and his deputies have increasingly resorted to fear-mongering and outright falsehoods about immigrants — most poignantly with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appearing on Fox News Sunday charging terrorists are streaming across the southern border, a claim explicitly denied by Trump’s own State Department.
With Michael McAuliff
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