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Republicans demand immigration votes ahead of midnight shutdown cliff

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Senate leaders are scrapping over a deal to pass a six-bill funding package as a partial government shutdown looms just after midnight thanks to GOP demands for votes on tricky immigration issues and nixing earmarks.

Republican senators are seeking votes on multiple amendments, including one particularly problematic request from Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.). His proposal would ensure undocumented immigrants aren’t counted toward the population when divvying up congressional seats.

“And Chuck Schumer is ready to shut the government down to avoid having to vote on that,” Hagerty told POLITICO.

“They don’t want to say the quiet part out loud,” he said. “And that is: Right now, illegal migrants are being used to allocate congressional districts and electoral votes. The American public doesn’t want that. Everybody that I talked with is shocked that it’s happening.”

As to whether there will be a partial government shutdown just after midnight, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday: “Ask the Republicans.”

Even if a partial shutdown does occur, Republicans holding up a final passage vote would eventually see their hand forced by the Senate’s clock — with the legislation remaining on track to pass Saturday, resulting in no meaningful disruption to funded agencies by Monday.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chamber’s GOP whip, confirmed midday Friday that Democratic resistance to Hagerty’s amendment is a major holdup to getting an agreement to vote on sending the $459 billion package to President Joe Biden’s desk before the shutdown deadline.

Thune also noted requests for votes on an amendment that would ensure deportation of undocumented immigrants found guilty of attacking a police officer, along with another amendment related to “sanctuary city” policies.

“It’s gotten a little complicated, unfortunately,” Thune said. He added that “one possible” option could be an agreement to take up tough amendments during debate on a much larger funding package that Congress needs to pass before March 22.

That second group of funding bills would avoid a shutdown that would hit the military and many key non-defense programs. Senators seeking funding for Coast Guard icebreakers are asking for assurances now that it would be included in the second spending package, which leaders hope to settle on in the next two weeks.

“There’s always that risk” of a partial shutdown, Thune said. “But hopefully we can avoid that if we can find a path forward. But that’s going to involve the Democrats being willing to work with us on some amendment votes.”

The Senate Republican whip said he hoped a deal would come together “in the next couple of hours” to move ahead with passage of the six-bill funding package.

Senate Republicans are seeking votes on several other amendments, including two from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that would strip out all of the package’s $900 million-plus in earmarks and nix a $1 million earmark Schumer secured for environmental justice work in New York City. The senator wants both of those amendments to be voted on with a simple-majority bar.

Funding is set to expire early Saturday morning for federal agencies covered under the six-bill spending package the House passed this week with overwhelming support. Transportation, agriculture, veterans and housing programs would be affected by a partial government shutdown, along with energy, military construction, science and water programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration would be hit by the shutdown, as well as the departments of Justice and Commerce.