Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson broke with most of his Republican colleagues on Thursday afternoon, voting to advance a Democratic plan to reopen shuttered federal agencies as he vowed to work with a bipartisan group of colleagues to find a way out of the border wall impasse.
The third-term senator’s surprise vote capped off a tense day on Capitol Hill in which the Senate shot down two proposals to end the shutdown — its first votes on spending bills since the funding lapse began Dec. 22 — but new flickers of hope emerged that lawmakers could make progress on negotiations. The House, meanwhile, backed a separate one-month stopgap bill to reopen the Department of Homeland Security largely along party lines.
Both Isakson and Georgia’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, backed a White House-supported measure that would have set aside $5.7 billion for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and reopened the government. That proposal ultimately fell 10 votes short of the 60 needed to advance.
But Georgia’s two senators diverged on the Democratic plan, which would have funded shuttered agencies for two weeks and paid for new natural disaster recovery efforts — but omitted wall funding. The proposal won over six Republicans but also fell shy of advancing.
Perdue, a Trump ally up for re-election in 2020, voted against the stopgap and said it was “unacceptable” that Senate Democrats rejected the White House-backed bill and “every opportunity to compromise in good faith.”
“In the real world, both sides have to negotiate to find a solution,” he said. “It’s time to work together to tackle these national priorities.”
Isakson, who has voiced support for beefed up border security and a border wall, has recently expressed frustration about the human toll of the 34-day shutdown. He announced plans Thursday afternoon to work with a bipartisan group led by Maryland Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin to find a way out of the impasse.
“All I’m doing is trying to do my job,” Isakson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Immigration is a huge issue. The shutdown is a huge issue. We had a hurricane that took out most of our pecan industry this year. … We’ve got lots of things we need to be addressing, and I’m trying to get us back to work and stop this silly back-and-forth, ping-pong politics.”
Following the Senate votes on both the Republican and Democratic plans, Trump signaled he’d be open to a potential deal but said a “down payment” on the wall would be needed.
Watching from the back of the chamber Thursday as senators cast their votes were roughly two-dozen House Democrats, including Georgia U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Lucy McBath. The group had marched across the Capitol in a last-minute bid to persuade GOP senators to vote in favor of the Democratic stopgap to jump-start immigration negotiations.
McBath, who flipped Isakson’s former 6th District seat in the U.S. House in November, has been sharply criticized by Republican political groups in recent weeks for sticking with Democratic leaders on the 10 piecemeal spending bills they have advanced to end the impasse.
“Lucy McBath is more interested in partisan games than making sure her constituents get paid for their work,” Camille Gallo, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a recent statement.
McBath, who has already drawn at least one 2020 opponent, has urged Democrats to “stand our ground” on border security.
“We have to do everything we can possibly do to make sure we’re doing right by the American people, and that means trying to get them back to work, trying to make sure that they receive their paycheck,” she said Wednesday.
Democratic political groups have similarly gone after Republican Congressman Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville, who narrowly hung onto his seat in 2018. One recent press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sought to tie Woodall to Delta Air Lines’ announcement that it was losing $25 million in revenue from the shutdown this month.
House Democrats have designed most of their 10 spending bills to be as painful as possible to politically vulnerable lawmakers such as Woodall.
For his part, Woodall — and all Georgia Republicans — have voted against the Democratic legislation, saying they did not include adequate funding for border security.
“I would say to my friends that the secret to finding common ground isn’t to ask everybody else to come to where you’re standing,” Woodall said in a recent speech on the House floor. “Candidly, my constituents didn’t send me here to do the same thing over and over again with the same failed result.”