What to watch as Congress tries to avert government shutdown

Fox News is told that administration officials are expressing confidence that they will be able to move the interim spending bill through the House — and ALSO the Senate. That said, the Senate is the bigger problem. Still, the process COULD bleed past the 11:59:59 p.m. EST deadline Friday night to fund the government and into the wee hours of Saturday night.

In that scenario, Congress has missed the funding deadline — but there is no actual shutdown as the continuing resolution (CR) is still in the pipeline.

To wit:

The House will vote sometime in the early evening on the emergency spending package, which will fund the government through February 16. A senior GOP source tells Fox News, “The vote will be close unless we have a last-minute jailbreak.”

Some things to watch for over the next few hours:

1)            You know they are in trouble if the GOP pulls the bill. That means they don’t have the votes and need to come up with another plan.

2)            They are in trouble if the House recesses “subject to the call of the chair” and the “blue screen of death” pops up on TV monitors all over Capitol Hill. That means the House may be able to get the votes — but they’re not there yet, and need to do some more whipping.

3)            The bill outright fails on the House floor.

Keep in mind that Republicans only can lose 23 members on their side of the aisle and not have to turn to Democrats to pass the bill. That number probably will be a little lower — considering that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is out and there will be other absences.

When the House vote ensues — watch for many Democrats to sit on their hands — not willing to cast votes at all. And those who MAY be willing to vote yes will not vote early, either. That’s because they’ll be waiting to see if GOPers can pass the bill with only Republican votes. Once they have the votes to pass the bill, it’s likely some Democrats representing competitive seats will vote yes.

Also, once it’s clear the GOP has the votes to pass the bill, there COULD be a flurry of Republicans who vote no. Those are “in case of emergency, break glass” votes. The Republican leadership will keep those members in the bullpen — ready to vote yes if necessary. If it’s clear they don’t need those votes to pass the bill, the Republican leadership will “release” those members to vote their conscience.

Then we move to the Senate — and that’s where the problem could be.

Just a few moments ago, I asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly here on the Hill for a meeting if there were problems getting the bill through the Senate.

“That’s up to Democrats in the Senate,” said Kelly.

In the Senate, it comes down to math.

The Senate breakdown is currently 51 Republicans and 49 senators who caucus with the Democrats. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is out. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is a hard no. That means there are at a MAXIMUM 49 Republican yeas for the bill. And it’s far from clear that ALL Republicans will vote yes.

In the Senate, you need 60 yeas to break a filibuster. That means Republicans need the help of at LEAST 11 Democratic senators to vote yes and break the filibuster. That is a high bar.

We wouldn’t rule out that this process could start tonight. But, by rule, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a cloture vote can’t be taken without an “intervening day.” That means even if McConnell gets the House bill tonight — they couldn’t have the cloture vote to end debate on the bill until 12:00:01 a.m. Saturday. Friday would be the “intervening day.” But the Senate often gets an agreement from others to step things up. We’ll see if that plays out. Otherwise, we may not even have a procedural vote on the plan until the early hours of Saturday.

If the Senate votes to break the filibuster (“invoking cloture,” is the term of art), 30 hours of debate are available to opponents of the bill. That means you may not have an actual vote in the Senate just to keep the government open UNTIL SUNDAY.

That said, they can step things up if they get any agreement — considering the hours are short.

However, multiple sources on Capitol Hill and in the administration tell Fox News that they expect to be here a bit this weekend.

Regardless, the key is whether or not Congress “tells” The Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that they don’t have the funding and the government must “shut down.” In other words, if they have missed the deadline — but a vote is coming on Saturday or Sunday — it’s doubtful that the government actually closes. They’ve missed the deadline. It’s another matter if they flat out don’t have a path to vote to keep the government funded over the weekend.

Fox News is told that the Trump administration would handle a potential government shutdown differently than the Obama or even Clinton administrations. Fox News is told that the Trump administration will not “weaponize” the shutdown, closing various monuments, national parks, et al. — to make a “show” of the shutdown.