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Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.

  • Regardless of whether the group of conservatives backs off its threat, the trajectory is that a short-term funding bill ultimately will pass — and won’t “defund” vaccine mandates.

What we're hearing: According to several senators and their aides, the most-likely scenarios as Congress barrels toward its deadline at midnight Friday:

Option 1: At least one of the 15 senators — a group that includes Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — objects to a unanimous consent (UC) vote that would speed up passage of the short-term funding bill, triggering a shutdown.

  • It would likely last only for the weekend, due to allotted time agreements for debating a bill, and a final vote would likely take place Sunday evening, leadership sources tell Axios.

Option 2: Senate leaders agree to hold a vote on an amendment defunding Biden's vaccine mandates. It fails, given Democrats would prevent it from receiving the necessary 51 votes to pass, but the exercise would give Republicans a chance to say they voted on it.

  • This is only an option if all of the senators threatening a shutdown agree to it.

Option 3: Senate leaders reach a different agreement with the group that allows it to address its issues in another manner.

  • As of now, no such deal seems imminent.

Between the lines: While all 50 Republican senators oppose the Biden administration vaccine mandates, most of them don't think risking a shutdown is the right way to eliminate them.

  • “I don’t think shutdowns benefit people, like some folks think they do," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
  • “I just don’t quite understand the strategy or the play of leverage for a mandate that’s been stayed by 10 courts,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told Politico. “I want the vaccine mandates lifted, but I don’t think the [spending bill] is the tool to do it. For all practical purposes, the mandates weaken every single day.”

Go deeper

Senate Democrats sink Ted Cruz's bill to sanction Nord Stream 2

Sen. Ted Cruz. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday failed to pass a bill sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, after the Biden administration aggressively lobbied Democrats to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz's effort to target the Putin-backed project.

Why it matters: The 55-44 vote is the culmination of Cruz's months-long push to force Democrats into an uncomfortable vote on Nord Stream 2, which the Ukrainian government has said is "no less an existential threat to our security" than the tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on its border. The bill needed 60 votes to pass.

Biden's epic failures

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

In the two months since signing the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, President Biden has by almost every measure bombed big time on the things that matter most.

The big picture: Biden, who marks one year in office next Thursday, has never been less popular nationally, after personally lobbying his party and the public on Build Back Better and voting rights — and failing.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.