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Indiana's lone Democratic senator helps to broker temporary spending bill



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Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., interviews with the press at the Wylam Center of Flagship East in September, 2017. Donnelly spoke Jan. 23 about how the government stayed open. Evan De Stefano Buy Photos

In the midst of a federal government shutdown last weekend, approximately 20 senators from both parties crowded into the Washington, D.C. office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. 

In an attempt to come to a consensus on the temporary spending bill which passed Monday, the senators huddled together. Among them was Indiana’s lone Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly.

“Over the course of the weekend, we talked and exchanged ideas for hours, fueled by coffee and donuts and popcorn,” Donnelly said Tuesday. 

According to Donnelly’s account of the meetings, in place of a talking stick the group passed around a foam basketball in “Hoosier tradition,” as he put it. 

The senator, who is up for reelection this year in a solidly red state, was part of a bipartisan group of about 20 senators who brokered the continuing resolution which will keep the federal government up and running through Feb. 8. 

He was one of only five Democrats who voted the Friday before in favor of a bill which would have kept the government open for four weeks.

One issue holding up the funding vote was immigration, specifically the fate of so-called “Dreamers,” who were covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. The president rescinded the program in September, giving Congress a March 5 deadline to create a legislative replacement. 

In a Tuesday call with reporters, Donnelly relayed his experience with immigration advocates who had visited his Senate offices in Indiana. The senator spoke of discussions he had heard of a potential 12-year path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

“Some of these children have been told, ‘Go back to your own country,’” Donnelly said. “And they'll tell you ‘I am in my own country. I'm in Lebanon, Indiana.’ And this is the world they have known.”

If the Feb. 8 shutdown deadline approached and Republican leaders were not going in the direction he wanted them to, Donnelly said he hoped the Senate would take up immigration reform, along with border security funding, at the first chance they could.

The senator struck a balance between supporting increased border security funding and providing a legislative fix for a void left by the president's rescinding of DACA.

“Hoosiers want secure borders,” Donnelly said. “And I think that Hoosiers want to make sure that these young people who came here when they were one or two or three years old — that they have a chance to be able to live their lives here.”

The nonprofit Lugar Center in Washington ranks Donnelly as the second most bipartisan senator to serve between 1993 and 2016. Using the same ranked list, he’s the most bipartisan senator currently serving.

Donnelly did not say whether he thought his party had put itself in a weakened position by voting to end the government shutdown, or whether he thought Democrats caved, but he did say he wasn’t worried about Republican or  Democratic wins.

“It’s what's best for our country,” Donnelly said. “And for these young people”

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