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American Opinion: These were the true heroes of the shutdown debacle

In the government shutdown crisis that Congress moved to resolve on Monday, or at least put on pause, there were so-called leaders who saw an opportunity to score cheap political points. Others went AWOL from their duty to help end the standoff. And then there were some, Republican and Democrat alike, who tried to make government work.

Among the unfortunate new lows of the episode: Vice President Mike Pence using soldiers as political props, attacking Democrats as he spoke to U.S. troops in the Middle East. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose job of protecting the United States should be above politics, choosing to pile on instead: "Benefits for millions of illegal immigrants instead of paying Americans who put their lives at risk daily to protect ours? I don't think so."

And, sadly, President Donald Trump himself, approving an attack ad that accused Democrats of being "complicit" in murders committed by undocumented immigrants. All of this nastiness eroded rather than built the trust needed to end the dispute.

Then there were those who could have helped to end the standoff and failed to do so. That starts, again, with Trump, who repeatedly appeared ready to make deals before the shutdown began but backed away each time. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also sat by, unwilling to make simple commitments that would have broken the logjam. An assurance that House leaders would allow an up-or-down vote on "dreamers" legislation would have helped unlock negotiations earlier. It also would have been the right thing to do.

By contrast, a bipartisan group of 25 senators spent the weekend talking instead of excoriating one another. This included Democrats who had voted earlier to keep the government open, such as Joe Manchin, W.Va., and Republicans who had voted to force the standoff, such as Lindsey Graham, S.C. The talks resulted in compromise; Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ultimately promised to bring an immigration bill to an up- or-down vote in the Senate within three weeks, and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, N.Y., joined most other Democrats in voting to reopen the government with that commitment in hand. Partisans on both sides could find grounds for displeasure, but the bargain was reasonable. If the deal does not result in the passage of an immigration bill, Democrats still have leverage over federal funding next month.

From here, that core group of moderate, dealmaking lawmakers should feel empowered. The broad middle in both houses of Congress should no longer wait for direction from a chaotic White House or spineless congressional leadership. They may discover that they have more in common with members of the other party also interested in competent, responsive government than they do with the ideologues in their own camp.

Because what distinguishes the senators working toward a solution, including Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, is not a lack of ideals but an interest in achieving positive change - including, most importantly, for hundreds of thousands of dreamers. These are law-abiding immigrants, brought here as small children, eager to contribute to the only country most of them have ever known. They need solutions, not political one-upmanship.

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