Shutdown watch: Noon vote but Democrats have trust issues with GOP

Story highlights

  • Democrats have watched immigration efforts wither when it comes to the House
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the hunt for seven additional Democrats

Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put his offer on the table. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer rejected the offer. Now they will vote.

Democratic aides say the votes still aren't there to re-open the government. Republican aides say they've provided the off-ramp to Democrats and may be able to pick enough off to move forward.
We'll find out at noon Monday who is right -- and more importantly, whether the government shutdown will end or go on with no clear end in sight.
    Bottom line: The talk among Republicans -- who, according to several lawmakers and senior aides, continue to feel comfortable in their position on the shutdown -- has been that Democrats don't know what they've gotten themselves into and are looking for an off-ramp. Democrats, of course, dismiss this. Monday will provide the clarifying moment.

    What matters Monday

    The 10 a.m. ET, closed-door Democratic caucus meeting will define the day.
    That will be the party's first full, closed-door meeting since McConnell made his offer Sunday night. There are significantly different dynamics inside the caucus, between the red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2018 to moderates to the more liberal to the potential 2020 candidates and everything in between. How Schumer navigates that group -- and how united that group remains under Schumer's leadership -- will decide whether the votes are there to move forward at noon.

    The offer

    Shortly after 9 p.m. ET Sunday, McConnell laid out his offer in remarks on the Senate floor: Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on February 8, assuming that the government remains open, it would be his intention to proceed to legislation that would address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, border security and related issues.
    Here's what that means, according to aides: McConnell wants the bipartisan group comprised of the second-ranked leaders in both chambers to have the next two weeks to work and come up with a proposal. Should that fail, and the government remains open, McConnell is saying he would plan to move onto immigration consideration on the Senate floor. That's not a guarantee of what the base text for consideration would be or what the process leading to floor consideration would be, but it's a tacit acknowledgment that if the White House and the leadership working group can't strike a deal, the Senate will start on its own.
    Why Democrats declined: The lack of concrete commitments in McConnell's statement, according to multiple aides.
    McConnell's use of the words "my intention" alone set off alarm bells inside the caucus -- a caucus that has watched McConnell make promises in the last two months to Sens. Susan Collins and Jeff Flake in return for their tax reform votes, only to see those promises go unfulfilled.

    The trust issue

    This goes beyond a willingness to take McConnell's word -- far beyond. This is much more about House Republicans than it is the Senate GOP.
    For years, Democrats have watched immigration efforts wither on the vine when it comes to House Republicans, who have a significantly more active and relevant hard-line immigration strain in their conference. There is no confidence inside the Democratic caucus that House Speaker Paul Ryan will ever take anything up related to DACA, at least not anything they would support.
    Add to that a president who, according to one Democratic aide, "shifts direction faster than a plastic bag in a hurricane," and that's the reason the party is unwilling to sign onto McConnell's commitment -- or really any commitment at this point.

    What Democrats want that McConnell won't give them

    • A commitment to a vote on a DACA resolution before the February 8 funding deadline (GOP aides say it's next to impossible from a calendar perspective to move that quickly).
    • A commitment that President Donald Trump won't be involved in the process (McConnell is willing to start the process on the floor without a president-approved bill, but he wants the President involved).
    • A commitment that the Dick Durbin-Lindsey Graham DACA proposal would serve as the base text for any floor consideration.
    • A binding commitment that the House will take up whatever the Senate passes on DACA. (Ryan and McConnell have both flatly rejected this, aides say.)

    Where the votes stand

    There were 51 votes on the cloture motion that failed (50 voted yes, McConnell voted no for procedural reasons).
    Graham and Flake have now flipped to "yes" from their previous "no" positions. That makes 53.
    In other words, whether Schumer agrees with what's on the table or not, McConnell needs seven more Democrats to break ranks to get this across the finish line.
    Where is the President: Trump has been active with Republican leaders, aides tell CNN, but other than that he's been out of the picture. McConnell speaks to chief of staff John Kelly several times a day, aides say, and the President's legislative affairs director, Marc Short, is almost always on Capitol Hill and shuffling in and out of meetings.
    Still, compared to Friday, when the President personally called a meeting with Schumer at the White House, he has been noticeably absent in the past two days.
    Here's the thing, according to senior aides and several lawmakers: that's fine by them. "We got ourselves into this mess, we should have to figure this out," one Republican senator told me. "He brings a lot of uncertainty to the equation, which isn't exactly helpful in moments like this."

    The bipartisan talks

    They are real. And productive, by several accounts. This is something our esteemed CNN colleague Mark Preston picked up from sources over the weekend, and it's true -- that this group is both genuinely trying to find a pathway forward, and also perhaps laying the groundwork for future relationships that, frankly, make the institution work better.
    They pulled together several proposals Sunday and presented them to their respective leaderships. Some were workable, some weren't. But all were considered helpful, aides say.
    As one senior Republican, long skeptical of the group, put it to CNN on Sunday: "There are just times when Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are better emissaries to Democrats than our leaders."
    But, and this remains a crucial point, it's the leaders who decide what will move forward, not the group of 19 moderate senators.