GOP Leaders Struggle to Avert Shutdown Following Fiery Rhetoric

Updated on
  • Lawmakers face Jan. 19 deadline to keep government funded
  • Trump’s rejection of DACA compromise complicates debate
Government Shutdown Deadline Looms

Republican leaders in Congress are angling for another short-term funding measure to avert a government shutdown at the end of this week while trying to keep a dispute over immigration separate from their attempts to get agreement on spending priorities.

With government funding set to expire at the end of the day Friday, Republican leaders are weighing a bid to extend it until Feb. 16, a person familiar with the negotiations said. They also are considering attaching legislation that would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the person said.

Democrats say the burden is on President Donald Trump to help break the stalemate after he rejected a bipartisan proposal to shield young, undocumented immigrants from deportation and ignited outrage by reportedly disparaging Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” Democrats want to attach such an immigration measure to the must-pass spending bill, an idea House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reject.

The GOP strategy seeks to force Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York to decide whether this is the moment to force a showdown on immigration that results in a partial government shutdown in an election year. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said Tuesday that he’ll introduce the bipartisan immigration compromise as soon as Wednesday and that McConnell should allow the vote before the Friday spending vote.

"Let’s bring this matter to a vote before we reach deadline on Friday," Durbin said.

Both parties have struggled for months to agree on a spending deal for the rest of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and Congress already has had to pass three short-term funding bills. A dispute over how much to allocate to defense and domestic programs has been an obstacle to a broader fiscal agreement that also could provide disaster-relief funds, shore up Obamacare, extend the health program for low-income kids, and include an immigration deal pairing protections for the young immigrants with a border-security plan.

Democrats have said they see Friday as the deadline to proceed with an immigration deal and the other policy measures which they see as one package of demands. Republican leaders have insisted that the immigration debate be handled entirely outside the spending package, and that more time may be needed to resolve both matters.

The outcome will have implications for both parties in the November elections that will decide control of the House and Senate.

Laying Blame

Trump and other Republicans blamed Democrats for the standoff.

“Democrats are using DACA, using all this other, as a hostage until they get a solution on DACA,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said. “That’s why we are in the fix we are in."

Trump blasted them in Twitter postings Tuesday. “The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security,” he wrote. In another tweet, he said, “We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!”

Republicans’ slim 51-49 Senate majority means they need at least nine Democratic votes to pass a spending bill. The GOP is counting on support from some Democrats, including from among the 10 who are up for election in November in states won by Trump.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is on the ballot in November and who voted with Republicans to help keep the government operating with a stop-gap measure in December, said he has little desire to see a shutdown. He said he remains confident that some kind of deal on immigration can be worked out before it comes to that.

“Shame on any of us if we sit here and say, OK, we‘re going to let it run out for the sake of politics and shut the government down,” Manchin said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “None of us even should be representing the good states that we represent, such as West Virginia and Colorado and Arkansas, if we allow that to happen.”

Republicans have a wider majority in the House -- they hold 238 seats in the chamber and 218 are needed to pass a bill. But even there, GOP leaders are working with a thin margin.

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who faces a competitive re-election this fall in a district that is heavily Latino, said he won’t vote to extend government spending authority if there isn’t an indication that an immigration deal is near.

DACA Deal

“If we don’t have any measurable progress towards a DACA deal I am not going to vote for a stopgap measure, and I’m asking Republicans and Democrats to take that position,” Curbelo said Monday on CNN, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Trump is ending. “We are in Congress and, regrettably, Congress is an institution that only acts when it’s forced to.”

Meanwhile, some House conservatives, including those in the Freedom Caucus, are threatening to withhold their votes on a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, to protest rising spending levels or to force an increase for defense.

“If it’s just a yes or a no on a CR, I would be a no,” said Representative Warren Davidson of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus member. But he said he doubts there will ultimately be a shutdown.

“I don’t know anyone who truly wants the government to shut down,” Davidson said on a conference call with reporters.

The immigration talks were set back Thursday when Trump sided with Republican immigration hard-liners and rejected a plan negotiated among a small group of Democratic and Republican senators. The proposal, presented by Durbin and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, during an Oval Office meeting with a group of lawmakers, combined border security and immigration-law changes -- sought mainly by Republicans -- with a measure to permanently shield about 690,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and registered under the DACA program.

Hardened Positions

The furor over the president’s reported remarks about why the U.S. accepts
immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations
rather than places like Norway, has hardened positions on both sides. Trump has denied using those exact words, which were confirmed by three people briefed on the exchange.

On Twitter Monday, Trump belittled Durbin, who said the president used “hate-filled, vile and racist” language about immigrants during the Oval Office meeting.

“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting,” Trump tweeted. “Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday defended Trump against accusations of racism, calling them “outrageous” and citing his success as a public figure and star turn on television as a host on NBC’s reality show “The Apprentice.”

“If the critics of the president were who he said he was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV,” Sanders said. “Why did they want to be with him for years and years in various activities whether it was events, fundraisers and other things?”

— With assistance by John Fitzpatrick, Steven T. Dennis, and Ari Natter

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