Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has attributed Democrats’ refusal to agree to a permanent funding measure to malevolence. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Senate majority leader introduced a bill that funds the government through Feb. 8 after a longer-term offer was rejected by congressional Democrats on Tuesday.
The Senate on Wednesday began to bail out Washington from a shutdown impasse, moving to fund the government into early February and avoid a funding lapse right before the holidays.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8, after a longer-term offer was rejected by congressional Democrats on Tuesday amid their continuing battle with President Donald Trump over his border wall. Story Continued Below
With Trump softening his demands for $5 billion for the wall in the waning days of the GOP Congress, McConnell (R-Ky.) was working to avoid a political blunder four days before Christmas. As of press time, the Senate was expected to pass the bill Wednesday night.
The House is expected to vote on the package Thursday — a full day ahead of the deadline — and there it will likely have broad support from both parties, according to multiple aides.
It has been a week of about-faces for the White House that have induced whiplash on Capitol Hill. Though Trump declared he would be “proud” to shut down the government if he didn’t get the wall funding he has been demanding, it now appears he is willing to sign a short-term funding measure.
Leaving lunch with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the president would sign the bill if it remained clean.
“He’s not happy about having to do this, but he’d be especially unhappy if there were other things people were asking for,” he said.
Some Republican senators privately expressed frustration a public lands package wouldn’t be included, but those senators did not explicitly say they’d force a shutdown over the issue.
Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the president, told Fox News on Wednesday morning that the “president is not going to back down” from his fight for border security, but she declined to rule out Trump signing the stopgap spending bill. “We’ll see what the Senate and the House present to the president,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it appears Trump backed down from his position. “The president’s insistence on billions for the wall has been the biggest obstacle,” the New York Democrat said.
Indeed, though White House aides insist the president is not backing down, their public statements appear to be easing the way for him to keep the government open even if he doesn’t get the money he wants for a border wall.
Conway gave the latest indication of that on Wednesday. “The [continuing resolution] to keep the government going until Feb. 8 is what they’re looking at now, but that does not change whatsoever two important facts. One, that this president believes his first and solemn duty is to keep us safe, and that includes enhanced border security,” she said. “And second, it does not change the fact that this border is so porous that all it’s done is gotten worse since those Democrats voted for border security 12 years ago. So this president is not going to back down from that.”
Her statement came after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president had instructed his Cabinet secretaries to search for spare money within their agencies that could be repurposed for a border wall — a move that is unlikely to produce funds amounting to the $5 billion Trump is seeking.
Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected an offer from McConnell on Tuesday because it provided $1 billion more than they were willing to accept for border security, deeming it a “slush fund.” With effective veto power over any deal and no appetite to hand Trump a political win, Democrats have not budged in recent days in their demands that Homeland Security funding stay flat, and in their insistence that they will give no more than $1.3 billion for border fencing.
Pelosi declared support for the short-term package on Wednesday, calling the failed talks a “missed opportunity.”
McConnell attributed Democrats’ refusal to agree to a permanent funding measure to malevolence. “It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy, even sensible policies that are more modest than border security allocations which many Democrats supported themselves, in the recent past,” McConnell said, needling Democrats for their “allergy to sensible immigration policies.”
When the latest funding bill is approved, Congress will have kicked the can on a border wall fight three times since September.
The punt sets up yet another confrontation for early next year, when Pelosi is expected to take over the House majority as speaker and will start with yet another immediate funding deadline upon her. But there’s no reason to expect Democrats to give in next year: In fact, without a GOP Congress there’s almost no chance Trump will get more border funding, absent a broader deal on immigration.
Pelosi will take the mantle in January with a fresh chance to unite her caucus around defying Trump. She and her lieutenants have repeatedly said they will try to jam Senate Republicans with funding bills stripped of new wall funding, pressuring McConnell to put them on the floor or risk a funding lapse on the GOP’s terms.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who will become House majority leader in January, suggested the House would pass a bipartisan six-bill package early next year that also freezes funding for the Department of Homeland Security — yet another punt on a broader immigration fight.
“We’re not going to get Homeland done,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday when asked about next year. “The wall’s not going to be resolved.”
This week’s bill will not include any emergency disaster relief for communities ravaged by wildfires in California or struck by Hurricane Michael in Florida, according to multiple aides.
Lawmakers from both California and Florida had been pushing hard for billions of dollars for disaster aid in a year-end spending deal, something that GOP spending leaders in both the House and Senate had vowed to deliver. Money was also expected to go to Indonesia, where an earthquake and tsunami killed more than 2,100 people this fall.
The short-term funding bill will also postpone into the next Congress a monthslong fight over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The domestic violence law will be renewed until Feb. 8, without the dramatic overhaul that many House Democrats have sought.
The National Flood Insurance Program — a debt-ridden program drained by a string of natural disasters in recent years — will also be extended through that date.
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