The President and other Republicans have been casting blame on the Democrats for being responsible for the current government shutdown.

If Republicans had a majority in the House and the Senate at the start of the shutdown, and also have control over the executive branch, what actions by the Democrats could give the Republicans a logical reason to place blame on them?

I’m sure there is something that I am missing (certain vote percentages, loopholes, who knows).

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    It's not the first time a funding gap has occurred when the president, the senate majority, and house majority, are of all of the same political party: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:50
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    @Aporter I don’t think it requires speculation at all. The question boils down to what are the mechanics/nuances of the US governmental system that allow a party with majority in Congress and control of the executive branch to logically be able to blame the opposing party. Who is actually to blame is somewhat irrelevant. Alexander was able to answer that in their response. Jan 6, 2019 at 0:15
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    @TrenttheGent If you consider Alexander's answer to answer your question, please edit the question so that it matches what he says. Because he doesn't actually address at all what you ask: what the Republicans's logic is that leads to their conclusion that the Democrats are to blame. Jan 6, 2019 at 2:11
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    Re blame and fault: Opponents of the wall regard steadfast opposition as less of a fault than it would it is both a credit and a duty -- i.e. something they're proud to oppose. For them it would be like asking *"whose fault is it that the US fails to officially re-institute slavery?"
    – agc
    Jan 6, 2019 at 4:57
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    @Mike Scott at the start of the shutdown, the Rebublicans did have a majority in the House. Jan 6, 2019 at 19:00

6 Answers 6


Rather than trying to address the claim of who is to blame, I will focus on the part of the question asking for the spefic actions that were taken and give you timeline of events to let you decide for yourself who deserves how much of the blame.

19th December, 2018:

Senate passes without any dissent by voice vote a bi-partisan short-term spending bill without funding for Trump's wall. That bill is expected to pass the House and be signed by the President. [1]

Fox and Friends, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter publicly criticize Trump for "folding" on the wall. [2]

20th December, 2018:

The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came up from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security.

-- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R)

Instead of voting on the bill the Senate passed, the House with Paul Ryan (R) as Speaker passes a different spending bill with $5 billion in border wall funding. This bill is not expected to pass the Senate, and ultimately did fail in the Senate, where 60 votes were needed and Republicans only had 51 seats. [3] [4]

3rd January, 2019:

The new House of Representatives with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker (D) passes a bill mirroring the one that passed the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) blocks the bill in the Senate, saying he will not bring a bill to vote without the president's approval. [5]

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    -1 because the question was "How could this be the Democrats' fault", and all this answer does is reiterate why it's Republicans' fault.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Jan 5, 2019 at 5:04
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    @WesSayeed I didn't say that. It may well be the logical conclusion, but that's just the way it is sometimes. Sometimes the premise of the question is wrong, or mostly wrong as I would say in this case.
    – Batman
    Jan 5, 2019 at 5:05
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    @Sascha It's technically a new one because the previous bill died when the previous Congress ended. My understanding is it is virtually identical though.
    – Batman
    Jan 5, 2019 at 19:27
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    (Dec 19) McConnell proposed amendment SA4163 (to HR695 ) to extend government funding through Feb 8, 2019. For some reason, this is being report as "passing 100-0" when in fact the margin is not known because this was a voice vote (see linked). See also C-Span coverage ~11:06PM (Dec 19) for a speech by senator Moran about why he voted no: c-span.org/congress/?chamber=senate&date=2018-12-19
    – BurnsBA
    Jan 7, 2019 at 15:37
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    Everyone: This answer is being discussed on Meta. If you do not feel it is a fair attempt at answering the question, please make your argument there. Not here. Comments are not a great place to discuss the nature of answers on Stack Exchange sites.
    – yannis
    Jan 7, 2019 at 15:41

I’m sure there is something that I am missing (certain vote percentages, loopholes, who knows), but to me the logic seems that if Republicans had the ability to pass the funding measure and then didn’t, wouldn’t the shutdown be the Republicans fault?

I think there are a couple things: first, the new Democratic majority; and second, the filibuster/cloture process in the Senate.

Yesterday (3 Jan.) was the first day of the 116th Congress. As of yesterday, the Democrats have a majority in the House (235 to 199, one disputed seat) and the Republicans have a majority in the Senate (53 to 47). At this point and going forward, both parties bear responsibility for passing or failing to pass spending bills.

However, before yesterday, the Republicans had a 236 to 196 majority in the House (three vacant seats) and a 51 to 49 majority in the Senate. In December, the (Republican) House passed a spending bill with funding for the president's proposed border wall. The Senate unanimously passed an alternative short-term spending measure without border wall funding, which the president then threatened to veto. Following that, the Senate Majority Leader stated that he would not support (or presumably schedule a vote for) any bill that the president threatened to veto.

Also, almost all bills in the Senate require 60 senators to invoke "cloture" in order to end debate and vote. Bills that fail to receive cloture are "filibustered," and given that Senate Republicans had an extremely slim majority in the last Congress, invoking cloture against a united Democratic conference was quite tough. Even in the new Congress, invoking cloture will be tricky for polarizing legislation (e.g. anything dealing with "the wall"), albeit marginally easier for the Republicans than in the last Congress.

In my opinion, anyone who assigns blame or responsibility for the shutdown to one party exclusively is trying to spin the facts to fit a partisan or ideological narrative. How you assign blame depends on your personal beliefs, what you think about the majorities in Congress and what you think about the filibuster.

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    "Senate Majority Leader would not support" is misleading. He has stated emphatically he will not allow any bill to be presented to the Senate without Presidential approval. Regarding responsibility for the shutdown, Trump has previously declared he would accept ("Proudly") the responsibility,
    – BobE
    Jan 5, 2019 at 4:34
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    A fair minded answer. I would assert that Democrats in the Senate that would filibuster any bill that includes wall funding joining forces with a Democrat House that passes bills that do not include any funding against the President's wishes and veto power, makes it clear that a particular party, the Democrats, are clearly not interested in compromising to keep government running.
    – enorl76
    Jan 5, 2019 at 5:19
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    enorl76, why do only the President's wishes matter? The entire Senate already approved spending withoutbthe additional wall funding. Brought Republicans together by havimg the Senate and House pass different bills? Jan 5, 2019 at 23:21
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    @enorl76 to crib your response... I would assert that Republican leadership in the Senate that would block any bill that does not includes wall funding even being debated joining forces with a Republican President willing to veto such bills even after the initial bill passes the Senate 100 to 0 and despite them opetating in seperate government branches, makes it clear that a particular party, the Republicans, are clearly not interested in compromising to keep government running
    – Jontia
    Jan 6, 2019 at 10:37
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    @enorl76 Since the president has declared he won't sign any bill without funding the wall then there is no way it can be claimed that he is compromising either. Since the democrat's bill includes 1.something billion for border security they can at least claim to be trying to find a solution that achieves the stated goals of secure borders and running the government.
    – Craig
    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:33

This isn't really that difficult: It's a typical standoff in which neither side wants to budge. Democrats could vote for the wall, but haven't. So, sure, it can be considered at least partially their fault. That's not to say Trump isn't to blame, either. But, if ending the shutdown were enough of a priority, then Democrats could simply vote for the money for the wall, and be done with it. If it's not, the standoff will continue.

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    The same logic says "the Republicans could accept no wall funding and be done with it". Jan 5, 2019 at 14:26
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    @EthanBolker : True, but the question asked about the arguments the Republicans are using.
    – vsz
    Jan 5, 2019 at 14:46
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    Exactly. Both sides want to blame the other for whatever bad thing is happening. Both sides are "to blame" in the sense that they could end the shutdown by caving in to the other side's demands. Jan 7, 2019 at 13:30
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    Schumer in the past, has talked about getting a border wall built. Yet now insists on no funding for a wall because Trump wants it. Trump wants the wall because its a campaign pledge, and he'll run next cycle on how Democrats filibustered wall funding in the Senate, and wouldn't pass bills in the House to get it done. Democrats will lose this one, because border wall is border security and Democrats appear to be lacking on any border security funding.
    – enorl76
    Jan 7, 2019 at 22:44
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    +1. When two sides are in a standoff, they each believe that the outcome that they are fighting for is the outcome with greater utility. It's possible that one side is right about this belief, and the other is wrong (depending on your definition of "utility"). If this is the case, then blame against the "wrong" side really is warranted by the "right" side. (Of course, in general, you have to weigh the utility of your position multiplied by the probability of it passing, purely against the utility of your opponents' position. Accounting for this, both sides can be "wrong".) Jan 8, 2019 at 18:50

Passing a spending bill in the Senate requires bi-partisan cooperation because it requires overcoming a 60-vote requirement. The President demanded that any spending bill include a line for $5 billion (about 0.13% of the total yearly spending) for a border barrier (which he colloquially called a "wall").

The Republicans were willing to include the line for this spending. The Democrats were not. By this logic, the Democrats have a partial responsibility for the bill not passing.

Clearly they are not the only ones to blame. The President's unwillingness to give up on funding of "the wall" is to blame as well. But using the cloture rules to hold up a spending bill over a 0.13% spending line is the reason (or logic) for why the President is putting the failure to pass the spending bill at the Democrats' feet.

Edit: in light of the answer to this question, this answer needs clarification.

Assuming that bills do expire when a Congress ends, the bill passed by the Republican House expired when the new Congress was sworn in. So while cloture rules were the reason why the spending bill was never passed by the outgoing Congress, it is not the reason why the new Congress, sworn-in in January of 2019, did not pass a spending bill.

In addition to having enough votes to force a filibuster in the Senate, as of January of 2019, the Democrats also have control of the House of Representatives. This gives them more power to stop any spending items that the President demanded.

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    There is no 60 vote requirement, it is only required if there is a filibuster. Lots of laws have been passed with less than 60 votes and without filibuster.
    – jmoreno
    Jan 6, 2019 at 23:10
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    @jmoreno. You are correct that 60 votes are not required for the bill to pass. But 60 votes are required for to invoke cloture (aka "end the filibuster") to allow for the bill to be actually voted on. And even if 60 senators do vote to invoke the cloture, the bill may actually pass with less than 60 votes.
    – grovkin
    Jan 7, 2019 at 11:34
  • With the new House having passed a different bill, is the argument about cloture rules holding up the spending bill still valid or would the new spending bill have replaced the old one in the mean time? Jan 15, 2019 at 12:35
  • @Trilarion a spending bill has to be passed both by the House of Representatives and the Senate. The outgoing House (before the current batch of Congressmen were sworn in) passed a spending bill which did contain the $5 billion wall spending line. So there was a bill that the Senate could have voted on to have a spending bill (the one passed by the outgoing House).
    – grovkin
    Jan 15, 2019 at 12:54
  • @grovkin Yes I know that, but now the incoming House passed another spending bill. Does this replace the old bill now or not? Basically I ask myself if we still need to talk about the old bill? Jan 15, 2019 at 13:14

If Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate, and also have control over the executive branch, how could it be possible that the Democrats are responsible for the shutdown?

Answer: The Republicans' majority in the Senate isn't large enough.

In order to end debating a bill, 60 senators have to agree to start voting. Because the Republicans only held either 51 (just before the 2018 election) or 53 (after the 2018 election), the Democrats have enough votes to continue debating certain bills forever. This is known as 'filibusting' a bill.

As a result, the Republicans were not able to pass a bill that included the requested money for a border wall, even when they had majorities in both chambers of Congress.

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    This answer doesn't seem to add anything not covered by the existing answers. Jan 4, 2019 at 23:03
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    @CrackpotCrocodile It's much shorter than the other ones. Listing which bills have passed doesn't answer why funding for a wall hasn't passed yet.
    – Sjoerd
    Jan 5, 2019 at 0:53
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    The question isn't about the funding for the wall though, but the government shutdown.
    – Lebbers
    Jan 5, 2019 at 3:16
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    @Jontia They couldn't pass a bill with funding for the wall due to the Democrats filibustering such a bill. As is proved by the fact that the bill with wall money approved by the House was never up for voting in the Senate. The Republicans have a Senate majority, but they don't control the Senate.
    – Sjoerd
    Jan 6, 2019 at 16:28
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    ...The version of the ACA that was signed into law was passed with 60 votes during that brief window. When they lost the 40th seat, this meant the only way to get it passed was for the House to pass something substantially similar, enough so that the differences could be ironed out in the normal "reconciliation" process, which per Senate rules only required a simple majority vote. All that "nuclear option" talk is nonsense. The filibuster rules were not touched.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:00

The simple answer is that they say so - they do not necessarily have to give a credible reason for why it is the Democratic Party's fault for people to believe them. For some, the President's words are enough.

For the more discerning mind, I'll take a bit of @Alexander O'Mara 's answer to explain. To summarize - in December, the Senate passed a bipartisan budget that did not include funding for the house. Right-leaning news sources criticized this, prior to the President's signage, as the president folding on the border wall. Trump refused to sign this bill, and over the Winter recess, the government shutdown began.

Now in January, the Democrats are submitting a very similar budget proposal to the one they submitted in December - and the argument being made by Mitch McConnell for not bringing it to the House floor is simple - the bill has already failed to get Presidential approval, and there is not enough support from his own party to override the Presidential veto, so the gesture from the Democrats is symbolic at best, and pointless at worst.

This echoes President Trump's views - that any negotiations with standing Senate leaders in the Democratic Party that do not address Trump's desire for border wall funding are pointless - because they will not meet his support and, likewise, not meet Republican party support in the House.

To summarize, while the bill sent to the House in December had enough support to make it to the President's desk, the lack of border wall funding in that bill had the President veto it. The Senate is now trying to push the old bill - and the Republican-Controlled house is rejecting it, with the explanation that it already does not meet with the President's approval.

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