U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is drawing criticism for his about-face on shutting down the federal government, with conservative groups questioning why, exactly, the Florida Democrat voted against keeping the government open late Friday evening, all to wave a white flag and vote to reopen federal operations by Monday afternoon.
Nelson, D-Fla., joined 49 other senators to vote against a House-supported continuing resolution to fund the government on Friday evening. The vote was a result of crumbling negotiations over the expiring extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, with Democrats vowing to remain resilient and keep the government closed until a solution was reached.
That evening, Nelson said he opposed continuing resolutions for “national security reasons,” but didn’t once mention DACA, a program which allows young people brought to the United States deferred deportation.
Instead, Nelson slammed short-term budget deals over "national security issues," which Democrats were not using as a rallying cry to close the doors on Capitol Hill.
"These short-term funding bills are hurting our national security and, at some point, we have a responsibility to say enough is enough,” Nelson said, later saying he voted against the CR because of disaster assistance.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee wasted no time pouncing on Nelson, launching a Facebook ad targeting the longtime senator who is one of six U.S. senators who voted against the resolution facing reelection this year.
“Bill Nelson’s vote for the Schumer Shutdown will have serious, real-world consequences for Florida children and seniors, as well as our national security,” NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin said. “When it really mattered, Nelson sided with Washington Democrats instead of Florida, and voters won’t forget in November.”
By Monday afternoon, Nelson and others had a change of heart from “digging their heels in” over DACA and he voted with 80 other senators to end the filibuster and thus reopen the government.
Nelson’s decision drew attention from the national Republican Party, which pondered what Nelson and other Democrats were trying to accomplish during the shutdown.
“After 3 days of a Schumer Shutdown, only one question remains for Senator Nelson: What was the point?” asked Republican National Committee spokesperson Ellie Hockenbury.
Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely speculated to be contemplating a run against Nelson, also seemed to hone in on Nelson as just another part of the ongoing “dysfunction” in Washington.
“In Florida, we pass a balanced budget every year – and now, because of Washington politics, our state agencies will work to ensure that Floridians continue to receive the services they need. Taxpayers deserve better from Washington,” Scott wrote over the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said Democrats would vote to reopen the government in exchange for negotiations on DACA, but some questioned how effective the Democrats’ strategy was in the long run.
Nelson, meanwhile, called Monday’s vote a “win for bipartisanship.”
“For days, I've been working with a group of moderate senators to end the shutdown and get a commitment to take up other bills,” he wrote. “As a result, there is now a path forward to help Dreamers, fund the military and provide disaster assistance to Florida.”
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