Two competing Bills aimed at ending the US government shutdown failed to pass the Senate on Thursday, though there were tentative signs that cross-party negotiations to reopen the government were under way.
Though neither Bill passed the 100-member Senate, the fact that they were put to the floor was welcomed as progress by many. It was the first time that a vote has been held in Congress on funding the government since the partial shutdown began on December 22nd.
A Bill based on President Donald Trump's solution to the funding standoff which included $5.7 billion in border funding and a proposal to extend legal protection to "dreamers" and other immigrants gained 51 votes. Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin, joined Republicans to back the measure, while two Republican senators – Tom Cotton and Mike Lee – voted against it. Both dissenting Republicans are known for their hardline immigration stance.
A competing Bill proposed by Democrats which was based on a short-term funding solution to reopen the government until February 8th and included $12.1 billion in disaster funding but no funds for the border wall, was also defeated. But it won more votes than the Republican-backed plan after six Republicans voted for it. Nonetheless, it fell well short of the 60-vote threshold needed, with 52 voting in favour.
Following the vote, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, met behind closed doors, amid signs that the White House could offer to host the top leaders in Congress on Friday in an attempt to break the deadlock. However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said a short-term funding measure would work only if there was "a large down payment on the wall".
It has been more than two weeks since President Trump and House speaker Nancy Pelosi met face to face for discussions, with relations between the two figures deteriorating in the interim.
Rank-and-file members of Congress from both political parties are becoming increasingly concerned at the deepening impasse which has left the US federal government in partial shutdown for more than a month. Speculation turned to a possible compromise proposal by Democrats which would offer billions in border security funding, but on the condition it was not used for a physical wall. President Trump has consistently demanded that Congress agrees to $5.7 billion in funding to construct a wall on the US-Mexico border. Ms Pelosi has said that the proposed wall was “immoral”.
The shutdown continued as President Trump said he would postpone the state-of-the-union address until after the government shutdown. The surprise announcement, made late at night on Twitter, was seen as a capitulation to Ms Pelosi, who said on Wednesday that she would not authorise the delivery of the speech on January 29th.
Some 800,000 federal workers looked set to miss their second pay cheque on Friday, as the shutdown continues past its 34th day.
There are growing concerns about the impact of the shutdown at airports. Air traffic controllers are among those going without pay. The FBI Agents Association also said work was being affected.
“The failure to fund the FBI is making it more difficult for us to do our jobs, to prevent the people of our country from criminals and terrorists,” said Tom O’Connor, head of the association.
Separately, the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday subpoenaed President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen to appear before it. The development came a day after Mr Cohen said he would not appear before the House oversight committee because of threats his lawyer said he had received from Mr Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.