A fresh GOP promise and a ‘talking stick’ help end shutdown

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Over doughnuts, bagels and muffins, Sen. Susan Collins said, the centrists agreed they’d support an end to the shutdown if McConnell could just slightly sweeten an offer he’d made the night before.

By Alan Fram | The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — When the Senate called it quits late Sunday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared there still was no deal to end the federal government shutdown and address a standoff over immigration.

On Monday morning, he and many of his fellow Democrats got to yes fast.

Whether it was a fresh offer from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, moderates’ stampede away from the shutdown blowback or a native American “talking stick” wielded by Sen. Susan Collins isn’t entirely clear. What is apparent is that Democrats began the morning planning to dig in, and the tide turned fast behind closed doors.

Midmorning, Collins, R-Maine, gathered a meeting about two dozen centrists from both parties in her office. Collins’ office had become known as Switzerland, an essential neutral place for both sides to talk. There was, at times, too much talking, Collins acknowledged. She employed a colorfully beaded stick — given to her by her colleague, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. — to help bring order out of the chaos.

“As you can imagine, with that many senators in a room, they all want to talk at once. I know that shocks you,” said Collins. She said the stick was handed to whichever senator was talking, “and they were allowed to speak, and then I’d take the stick from them, give it to the next person.”

The stick wasn’t always a positive thing. A GOP aide said that at one point, a nearby glass elephant was chipped and Collins turned to a more manageable rubber ball.

Over doughnuts, bagels and muffins, Collins said, the centrists agreed they’d support an end to the shutdown if McConnell could just slightly sweeten an offer he’d made the night before.

Sunday night, McConnell, R-Ky., said he wanted Congress to approve legislation reopening government through Feb. 8. He said in return, it would be his “intention” to quickly resolve disputes over immigration, disaster recovery and the budget. And if those issues weren’t settled by then, it would be his “intention” to consider legislation addressing them.

By Monday morning, McConnell described his plan a bit differently, saying “I hope and intend” to resolve those issues by Feb. 8. If they weren’t resolved by that day, he said, it would be his “intention” to take up a measure on those topics.

Before McConnell spoke, Democratic leaders were pushing lawmakers to oppose a Republican bill to reopen government in a vote scheduled for noon, according to aides, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss strategy.

But by the time McConnell had spoken and Democratic senators gathered privately in a meeting room near the Senate floor, that effort had stopped.

McConnell was “more specific and more encouraging,” said Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., entering the meeting among Democrats. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., cited McConnell’s “tone” and said, “I’m enormously optimistic that now we have a pathway forward to stop the shutdown.”

Democrats familiar with the meeting say Schumer told Democrats the offer from McConnell was the best they would get. No. 2 Sen. Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois agreed, and most members agreed it was best to back the leaders.

Dissidents, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, spoke up. But their remarks were constrained, not heated, and by the time the gathering broke up after around 90 minutes, it was clear that the shutdown was about to end.

Shortly after the meeting, two-thirds of the Senate’s Democrats voted to advance the plan and end the shutdown.

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