The Democrats move to avert a federal government shutdown marks a step forward, but widening divisions within the party will make passing legislation a messy business.
The decision to raise the minimum wage and other less contentious proposals might help Democrats mobilise their base, but will not sway Republicans, who seek only to avoid government shutdowns.
“My assumption is that what we will do is accelerate government funding bills that the president has publicly endorsed,” said Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who was part of the group of four arguing to raise the minimum wage.
However, other Democrats expressed reservations. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio – a progressive champion on labor and other issues – argued in favour of the minimum wage but initially opposed raises to the EAP and the Research Act, programs that finance scientific research that has lagged behind private industry.
“I want to work with the White House,” Brown said. “I don’t want to shut down the government over this.”
Brown, Casey and other Democrats have already begun pushing bills that aim to expand or block specific aspects of Trump’s policies. But Democratic leaders view the various bills as a running commentary on the party’s legislative agenda, and doing it one at a time could be a difficult task.
“There are factions in the party that want to work together,” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow said. “There are factions that want to spend time defining their vision – and I’m concerned that this is not the best time to focus our voters and our friends and our allies.”
Stabenow said the approach might work better for a midterm election year, rather than an election year in 2020, when the electorate could be less receptive to out-of-the-box ideas. And strategists say that while Democrats want to score victories this year, the politics of making policy fights this year will outweigh the political benefits of holding out for later in the term.
“This is not 2006. There is too much that has not changed,” said Daniel Weiner, a Democratic strategist. “Many people in my generation have begun to move away from the partisan polarization and have embraced the idea that we must find solutions to our problems.”
There are just a handful of weeks left before the government runs out of money. The Trump administration had warned of a shutdown after its appropriation ran out on 14 April. But the government is far from a deadlock.
A Republican filibuster in the Senate could derail any Democratic measures. Senate Republicans can now block any effort by Democrats to raise the minimum wage, establish paid family leave or expand the family and medical leave insurance program or the EAP.
A rebellion by Republican senators suggests that even some pro-trade Republicans have begun to reconsider Trump’s tariffs. After some senators from California and New Jersey sought an exemption for tomato farmers from the administration’s new tariffs, several other Republican senators walked out of an acrimonious meeting of farm state senators.
“Republicans can walk out on this,” said Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who voted against the latest resolution protecting Mueller. “Just take their nose out of the weeds and start debating things. I’m going to say that again and again to my colleagues.”
But even Corker says he supports the overall goal of an open-ended inquiry into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.
Possible GOP defections could continue to be motivated by various other issues. Bob Corker says Trump Jr should testify in public about Russian interference Read more
Senate Republicans passed a highway bill funding program on Thursday that deals largely with rural roads. But 10 Republicans voted against the bill, which requires 60 votes to pass, making a number of other Democratic initiatives more difficult.
The potential for intra-party dissent could make compromising with Republicans on issues such as family leave and paid family leave problematic. Those issues could stall a bill that Democratic leaders hope to put to a vote before a recess that starts at the end of May.
“In my view we need to present a unified Republican front to try to pass a bill to address these issues,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Senate’s “Gang of Six”.