Mitch McConnell moved to bail out Congress and President Donald Trump from an intractable shutdown impasse, preparing on Wednesday to fund the government into early February and avoid a funding lapse right before the holidays.
The Senate majority leader will introduce a bill that funds the government through Feb. 8 after a longer-term offer was rejected by congressional Democrats on Tuesday amid a continuing battle between Trump and congressional Democrats over his border wall. With Trump softening his demands for $5 billion for the wall in the waning days of the GOP Congress, McConnell is working to avoid a political blunder four days before Christmas.
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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 doesn’t get the wall funding he is 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.
Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the president, told Fox News 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 that it appears Trump backed down from his position.
“The president’s insistence on billions for the wall has been the biggest obstacle,” Schumer 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 February 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,” Conway 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 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 they will give no more than $1.3 billion for border fencing.
McConnell, however, 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. “We will turn to a clean [stop gap spending bill] later today, so we can make sure we don’t end this year the way we began it — with another government shutdown because of Democrats’ allergy to sensible immigration policies.”
Trump said just a week ago he would proudly own a government shutdown over the border in an unusual televised clash with Pelosi and Schumer. But Trump has gradually backed away from the $5 billion number, while Democrats haven’t moved. McConnell called it “knee-jerk, partisan opposition to the administration’s reasonable and flexible requests.”
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.
The 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 a months-long fight over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act into the next Congress. 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 — the debt-ridden program drained by a string of natural disasters in recent years — will also be extended through that date.