Politics

House passes bill to avoid government shutdown, but iffy Senate prospects remain

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., answers questions on the possibility of a government shutdown at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. After receiving assurances from Ryan a key group of conservative House Republicans said they would support a short-term funding bill.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., answers questions on the possibility of a government shutdown at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. After receiving assurances from Ryan a key group of conservative House Republicans said they would support a short-term funding bill.
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The House passed a stop-gap funding bill Thursday evening, though the measure now faces uncertainty in the Senate as Republican congressional leaders work to avert a government shutdown by late Friday night.

Now Republicans need 60 votes in the Senate to proceed on the four-week continuing resolution, which would only extend funding until February 16. That is looking more and more difficult after most Democrats and at least three Republicans senators have said they won't vote for the bill.

The measure passed in the House, 230-197 with 11 Republicans voting against the bill and 6 Democrats voting for it, after House Freedom Caucus members reached a deal to vote for the bill. The group's chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., had initially claimed enough of his members would withhold support that the bill would fail with GOP votes only, but about an hour before the vote was expected to begin Meadows told reporters he received enough concessions from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., including plans for future votes on additional military funding, that he would recommend his caucus vote for the bill. And Thursday evening, the group said on Twitter that a majority of its members has decided to support the stop-gap measure.

Democrats, however, want to include a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), set to expire in March, to protect the roughly 700,000 enrollees in the program who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. And House Democrats have indicated they won't encourage their members to vote for the bill in order to bail out Republicans if the GOP falls short of the votes needed.

Some Senate Republicans have already said they won't support the bill. Republicans only have a 51-49 advantage, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., possibly unavailable due to medical issues.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was one of the lawmakers pushing for a bipartisan immigration deal to go along with a funding bill, reiterated Thursday evening he would oppose any short-term measure.

"I am not going to support continuing this fiasco for 30 more days by voting for a continuing resolution," Graham said. "It's time Congress stop the cycle of dysfunction, grow up, and act consistent with the values of a great nation."

On top of that, President Trump injected fresh confusion into tense negotiations to avert an impending shutdown with a Thursday morning tweet that indicated he opposed the measure the White House had previously signaled support for.

"CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!" Trump tweeted Thursday morning. The House funding bill includes a six-year renewal of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, which GOP leaders included as a potential sweetener to get the votes they need to pass the stop-gap measure and to force Democrats to vote against the program they're eager to reauthorize.

Ryan downplayed the tweet to reporters Thursday morning. "I am sure where he stands. He fully supports passing this legislation," Ryan countered, noting that he spoke to the president after the tweet was posted.

Trump's tweet also contradicted the White House's already stated position in favor of the stop-gap bill. In a statement Thursday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president supports the House bill. "The President supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House. Congress needs to do its job and provide full funding of our troops and military with a two-year budget caps deal," Shah said. "However, as the deal is negotiated, the President wants to ensure our military and national security are funded. He will not let it be held hostage by Democrats."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning that he anticipates the House will pass the funding bill, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was "not sure what the president means" when asked on Fox & Friends about the CHIP tweet.

The last-minute confusion over CHIP further complicated spending negotiations that were stalled when Trump rejected a bipartisan Senate immigration plan intended to pave the way for a long-term spending agreement.

The president also jabbed at Democrats in another tweet this morning over the stalled negotiations to reach a deal on spending limits for this fiscal year. "A government shutdown will be devastating to our military...something the Dems care very little about!" he tweeted. Democrats are resisting a spending deal agreement until a bipartisan immigration deal is clinched.

The immigration talks fell apart last week after Trump rejected a plan proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to pair increased border security with new legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 700,000 DACA participants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children.

It was during that meeting that Trump questioned why the U.S. would want more immigrants from "shithole countries" in Africa.

Trump also weighed in Thursday on Twitter on immigration, again demanding money for a wall along the southern border with Mexico. "We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!," Trump tweeted.

Democrats say they will not accept any spending bill that funds the construction of a physical border wall but they have been willing to negotiate over money for increased technology and other forms of border security.

Now, a second group of negotiators, led by the second-ranking Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, has stepped in to attempt to craft a new deal but the talks have been largely unsuccessful, according to several aides familiar with the talks.

Durbin is one of those negotiators, but he has indicated he will vote against the stop-gap funding measure in the Senate. A growing number of Senate Democrats see the vote on the funding bill as a leverage point to try and reach a deal on immigration, even if their opposition threatens a shutdown.

Three centrist Democrats, Sen. Angus King of Maine (he is an independent but caucuses with Democrats) and Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner all announced Thursday morning they would oppose the funding measure. All three voted in favor of the previous stop-gap measure in late December.

"Congress should remain in session with no recess until we work out a long-term bipartisan budget deal that addresses all issues," Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement in which they said they would vote for a stop-gap measure lasting just a few days to keep the government's lights on and negotiations ongoing. Virginia is home to a large number of government employees who would be directly affected by a shutdown.

"The continuing resolution is just a gimmick," Kaine said Thursday evening on NPR's All Things Considered. "It's a way of saying well we can't decide so let's just drive by looking in the rearview mirror and do what we did yesterday."

The House needs to pass a bill Thursday in order to give the Senate time to do the same ahead of the midnight Friday deadline.

One key Democratic divide in the Senate: a tactical split between the Democrats running for re-election this year in states that Trump carried, and the Democrats being mentioned as possible 2020 contenders.

2020 hopefuls like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand all oppose voting for a funding bill, if it doesn't include permanent protections for DACA recipients. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has advocated for this, too.

In December, seven of the 10 Democrats running in states that Trump won in 2016 voted in favor of the funding bill.

Immigration activists have increased the pressure on Democrats to oppose any spending measure while DACA is still unresolved. United We Dream has labeled Democrats who voted for the last funding bill, in December, as the "Deportation Caucus."

When asked this morning if he would be responsible if the government shuts down, Trump responded: "Could happen. We'll see what happens. It's up to the Democrats."

This story has been updated.

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