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The key change that convinced Democrats to strike a shutdown deal

Hours into the start of the work week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Democrats would vote for a three-week spending deal to end the government shutdown that began Saturday, while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow Senate votes on immigration issues like DACA. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to talk about the bipartisan short-term deal.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The federal government is going back to work. Senate Democrats and Republicans came to a meeting of the minds today on ending the partial shutdown.

    With that, Congress moved to make it happen.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hours into the workweek shutdown, just after noon, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer came to the Senate floor.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    The Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Announcing Democrats would vote en mass for a three-week spending deal.

  • Man:

    On this vote, the yeas are 81, the nays are 18. The motion is agreed to.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It passed overwhelmingly with yes votes from 33 Democrats and 48 Republicans. The deal is much as it was Friday- to fund government through February 8, and to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program, which covers nine million kids, for six years. It also suspends some Affordable Care Act taxes.

    And there's one key promise. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he will allow Senate votes on competing immigration plans, including a bipartisan plan to give status to so-called dreamers, young people brought to this country illegally.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    So long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The two leaders spoke on the floor, but the deal was worked out by a large bipartisan group of 25 other senators, who took the issue into their own hands. It included Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin.

  • Sen. Susan Collins:

    This has been a great experience, in that every single person has been committed to getting to yes.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin:

    Every person here had their say of how we can work together and really make the place work again for America.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Democrats recognized this is a bubble of bipartisanship after weeks of animosity.

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    There's a lot of challenges here in terms of people trusting each other.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans tried to reassure Democrats. Arizona's Jeff Flake had originally been promised an immigration vote this month, but says he believes McConnell's pledge today.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake:

    I think this is a pretty high-profile promise right now if he makes it on the floor to move ahead and proceed to a bill. I think Democrats can hold him to that, and so can we.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That wasn't enough for some 16 Democrats who voted no, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

  • She tweeted:

    "This bill fails to fix the moral issue we must solve. That's why I voted against it."

    Others, including Minority Whip Dick Durbin, who voted yes, told dreamers this was their best chance at getting status.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    To all the dreamers who are watching today, don't give up. I know your lives are hanging in the balance on what we do here on Capitol Hill and with the White House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As Democrats rallied for DACA recipients, Republicans like McConnell painted their stance a different way.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    I think if we have learned anything in this process, it's that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn't understand and wouldn't have understood in the future.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amidst all of this, there was one other debate, about the role, or lack of role, of President Trump. Democrats said he was absent.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders indicated Mr. Trump was merely waiting for Democrats to change their minds.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    "I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses and are now willing to fund our great military, Border Patrol, first-responders and insurance for vulnerable children. As I have always said, once the government is funded, my administration will work towards solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now from the Capitol for the latest, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Thank you both.

    So, Lisa, on Friday, most of the Democrats were against this. Today, there were enough of them to make it pass. What changed?

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    Two things changed, Judy, first of all, a nuance that was very important to Democrats from Leader McConnell. Last week, he was saying that he wouldn't commit to bring up any immigration bill that the president could not support, saying that that was pointless.

    Well, now Leader McConnell is saying, instead, he will allow a wide range of immigration ideas to get votes on the Senate floor, including a bipartisan deal. And that was significant to Democrats. Of course, they disagree over how significant.

    The second thing that happened, Judy, to change things, Monday. A workweek shutdown is very different than a weekend shutdown and that added tremendously to the pressure on Democrats today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, so if that's what they're saying at the Capitol, how is the White House looking at this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is essentially casting this as a Trump win.

    The idea is that Sarah Sanders from the podium today said that this is a Trump deal, that he came up with this and that Democrats essentially caved. She said that they came to their senses, essentially. And she essentially doubled down on Marc Short, which is what he said this weekend, when he said that Democrats were throwing a tantrum.

    So I think while the Hill is essentially saying this is a bipartisan deal, the Republican president is essentially saying you can thank the Republicans for having your government open.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard in Lisa's report, Yamiche, that the president was playing a role that was more off to the sides. What was the president's role in all of this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It's really interesting.

    Sarah Sanders was asked today, what do you say about the president not being as active this weekend? She said whatever he did worked. And, essentially, what she is saying is that while, yes, he was making calls, there is this idea that he drew a line in the sand and that line was that he wasn't going to debate about DACA while the government was shut, and that actually worked.

    The other thing that was really interesting in that briefing is that she also kind of threw her support behind this controversial ad that was released this weekend. It's an ad that essentially says that Democrats would be complicit in killing undocumented immigrants if they didn't essentially take a harder stance on immigration.

    While this deal was struck, they're essentially saying that we have the exact same ideas and that we really want to curtail immigration in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, back to you at the Capitol, so where do all these fights stand, whether it's immigration? We know there was language in there that had to do with children's health insurance. How close are they to reaching an agreement on all these things?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Children's health insurance, Judy, is the one thing that really moves in today. The Children's Health Insurance Program now will now be funded for six years. That is a very big deal for those nine million children who are affected by that.

    Everything else, Judy, we're just buying a few weeks. That's what lawmakers are doing. And on immigration in particular, Yamiche and I have both been reporting the president held meetings tonight with groups of senators, but it was interesting. It was with one group of Republican senators, including some hard-liners, and then separately he met with Joe Manchin and also the new Senator Doug Jones from Arkansas, the two most — or Alabama, rather — the two most conservative Democrats.

    So right now the president is talking mostly to conservatives about immigration. We will have to see how that goes. Add to that there are questions about disaster funding still waiting. And, by the way, spending cuts are about to hit.

    Both Republicans and Democrats want to sort of raise those spending cap — spending cuts. It's hard to see if — to know if they will get a deal on that. Judy, I think, in all of this, this may not be the only time we talk about possible shutdowns this year. There are many factors that are woven together. It's hard to say if those will help or will choke debate here at the Capitol.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, after all, this is — we're just talking about three weeks.

    Yamiche, this has been kind of an extraordinary spectacle we have been watching. Have we learned something about how our leaders operate under these circumstances?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We have learned that essentially President Trump, while he has these people around him that have these really hard-line views, he is going to really be the one leading the ship.

    Sarah Sanders pushed back very hard when people said, well, does Stephen Miller or John Kelly have veto power?

    She said no. And even though she was essentially saying he did step back a little and let things happen, she was essentially saying that Donald Trump is making the decisions here. And if it's the Donald Trump from the campaign, we know that he has some really hard-line stances.

    And I should say I talked to some of the administration officials that say they really have four things they want in immigration. They want to end chain immigration, they want to end the visa lottery program, and they want to end — and they want $33 billion for border security. They want all that for DACA.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So there is still a lot to be negotiated here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you both. What a crazy weekend.

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