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Winners and losers of the government shutdown

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While no one really truly “wins” when the government shuts down — especially in the real world, where people's lives are tangibly affected — this two-day shutdown, which is on its way to ending after senators reached a deal, did have some clear political winners and losers.

Let's jump right in.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised "a level playing field" for future immigration legislation if the Senate passes a spending deal on Jan. 22. (Video: U.S. Senate)

Congressional Republicans: They more or less held their ground when the government shut down after Friday's midnight deadline passed, and in the end, Democrats compromised way more than Republicans to open the government back up.

Democrats and four Senate Republicans voted against a spending bill Friday night because they were frustrated about two things: 1. The stop-and-start nature of short-term spending bills and 2. Republicans' lack of firmness about voting on a deal to protect “dreamers” from deportation.

The shutdown ended without either of those things solved, really. Twenty-eight senators who caucus with Democrats changed their votes and decided to reopen the government just for a few weeks. And there doesn't seem to be an ironclad deal from Republican leaders to vote on a bill about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects young people brought to the country illegally. All Democrats have is Republicans' word, which isn't that far off from where they started this whole thing.

Already some liberal senators were expressing their outrage about the deal Democrats got:

President Trump: It's tough to call a government shutdown on his watch a win. It shut down on the first anniversary of his presidency. And this was the first time federal employees were furloughed while one party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. And there's a strong case to make that Trump and his indecision are major reasons the government shut down in the first place. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released just before the shutdown found a majority of Americans would blame him and Republicans for it.

But since there's also a strong case to make that his party won the political narrative of this shutdown, Trump is ultimately a winner here. Democrats' attempts to make this the “Trump shutdown” likely won't stick, especially since Trump (mostly) kept his head down throughout and let the Senate work it out.

Moderate senators: After the shutdown ended, it's not a coincidence that the first two senators in front of the cameras were Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). When the Senate devolved into chaos Saturday, they and other moderate senators made themselves the partisan version of Switzerland and acted as go-betweens for the two sides. As my colleagues report, there were virtually no substantive talks between the Republican and Democratic Senate leaders.

Meanwhile, Collins said she was hosting nearly two dozen senators in her office, with Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) helping shuttle updates across party lines. By Sunday, the outlines of the deal that eventually became The Deal had taken shape. Collins played a similar role during the 2013 shutdown.

After a bipartisan meeting on Jan. 22, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has "moved" toward addressing DACA. (Video: Reuters)

And Manchin and other vulnerable Democratic senators smartly aligned themselves with her. They are up for reelection in states Trump won by a lot, and they were the only Senate Democrats who voted against sparking a government shutdown in the first place. It was a political calculation that this wasn't going to go over well with swing voters.

Which brings me to our losers.


Democrats: See basically everything under why Republicans won. Democrats calculated that their base and American voters would reward them for taking such a high-profile stand to protect dreamers, and that Republicans would be the ones to blink first, since Republicans control all levers of government right now.

In the end, they gave up significant negotiating ground on funding Trump's border wall (Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said before the government shutdown that he told the president to name his price for the wall in exchange for dreamers). And they don't have an eye for an eye; a vote to end the shutdown was not a vote to protect dreamers.

Democrats counter that the first step is the hardest. They are pretty sure DACA will come up for a vote, and they were already pretty sure a majority of members in Congress will vote for it.

But still, this feels like a high-profile stand without an equally high-profile victory. The key vote in the Senate still hadn't even wrapped up Monday, and a number of immigration activists were tweeting their displeasure with Democrats.

Dreamers: It's far from a guarantee dreamers will be safe from deportation when a deadline comes up in March.

There is no ironclad agreement the Senate will vote on a bill, let alone that it will pass, let alone that the more conservative House of Representatives will take it up, let alone that will pass, let alone that Trump will sign it into law. (No one seems to know what Trump wants on immigration.)

All other spending deals: This whole drama was just about keeping the government open for a few weeks. This is the fourth short-term spending bill Congress has passed since the fiscal year started in October, and there is no sign Congress can come to a longer-term agreement by the next deadline lawmakers set for themselves, Feb. 8.

There are still major outstanding disagreements between the two sides, including how much to raise budget caps on defense vs. nondefense spending, and how much to spend on disaster aid and the opioid crisis.

Which means: As soon as we get out of this shutdown, Congress is at risk for another.