President Donald Trump and Congress are on a collision course over government funding this week, as the White House demands money for a border wall with Mexico and Democrats vow it will never see a penny.
But just five days out from a government shutdown, Trump appears headed for disappointment. Democrats are signaling they’re unlikely to cave, and Hill Republicans are already pressing the administration to fight another day.
That means the White House is largely on its own in a high-stakes game of political chicken, weakening its negotiating position. Even Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former Homeland Security Committee chairman who wrote the 2006 law authorizing the wall’s construction, said the White House should push for it later in the year.
“There’s going to be compromises going on,” King said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “Once the government is up and running, and stays open and running, then we have to fight this out over the next year.”
The face-off comes as lawmakers return to Washington following a two-week Easter recess. Government funding expires Friday, leaving Congress little time to strike a deal. A White House push for progress on repealing Obamacare will also consume energy on Capitol Hill, even as a vote on legislation this week appears unlikely.
White House officials and several senior House Republican sources say a short, one-week stopgap may be needed to buy more time to negotiate on a larger bill to fund the government through September.
In the meantime, both sides are puffing up their chests, refusing to budge from their hard-line positions on one of Trump’s most famous campaign pledges. Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly both reiterated during Sunday interviews that Trump would need a down payment on his wall as part of a government funding package.
“It goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for the border wall,” Kelly said on CNN. “He’ll do the right thing for sure, but I would expect he’ll be insistent on the funding.”
On cue, Democrats scoffed.
“The Democrats do not support the wall,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The burden to keep it open is on the Republicans. The wall is, in my view, immoral, expensive, unwise.”
Meanwhile, sensing the judgments of pundits and politicians surrounding Trump’s 100-day mark this Saturday, the White House is also cranking up the heat on Speaker Paul Ryan to pass an Obamacare repeal-and-replacement this week, another heavy lift for the House.
Mulvaney suggested Sunday the chamber could pass both a health care and government funding bill in the coming days, and he said he’s even “heard rumors” that House lawmakers may work through next weekend to get the repeal passed. That’s a notion most popular among increasingly impatient White House officials; House Republicans have no plans at this time to hold lawmakers in town through the weekend.
Ryan also downplayed the possibility of a health care vote this week during a conference call with Republican lawmakers Saturday. While GOP leaders are more optimistic about reaching a deal to win over their fractious conference, a vote won’t be held until party whips are confident they have the votes for passage.
Plus, the focus on Capitol Hill is the still-unsettled negotiation to avoid a shutdown.
The White House’s hard-line insistence on wall money in the final stages of talks has perplexed some lawmakers, particularly after Trump’s vows that Mexico would pay for the wall, not taxpayers. Numerous senior Hill Republicans don’t think the White House request — a $1.4 billion down payment on a construction project that might ultimately cost more than $20 billion — is worth such extensive political capital at this time.
Most GOP lawmakers say they’re confident there will be no shutdown, echoing comments Ryan expressed to House members Saturday. But they will need significant Democratic votes in both chambers, especially with the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.
“We have to find eight votes in the Senate to avoid the Senate filibuster,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) said on “Sunday Morning Futures.” “We’re going to have to find the way we bring Senate Democrats along.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it would be dangerous for the United States to flirt with a shutdown during a time of instability in Europe, the rising threat from North Korea and an ongoing conflict in Syria.
“We cannot shut down the government right now,” Rubio said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” later adding that the border fight is “worth having for 2018” funding rather than for the current fiscal year. “The last thing we can afford is to send a message to the world is that the United States government, by the way, is partially functioning.”
Privately, numerous Hill Republicans believe the White House will eventually cave on the wall — though Trump is expected to win some extra money for the Pentagon and border security that don’t relate to wall construction.
Some administration officials, however, are adamant that they could pin fault for a government shutdown on Democrats. Mulvaney said Sunday that Republicans would blame the left for “holding hostage national security.” White House legislative liaison Marc Short said “the American people have been clear that they want the border secured.”
“I think the president’s been clear, and the American people elected him on wanting border security,” Short said in an interview Friday. “We don’t see how that’s a controversial element in our minds. … The American people elected us based on that.”
Still, a shutdown showdown is a risky gamble for Republicans, as they control all the levers of power in Washington and would likely shoulder blame, too.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus took a slightly less aggressive approach than other Trump officials, saying on “Meet the Press” that he believes the government will stay open and that he’s “pretty confident we’re going to get something satisfactory” for border security.
He also would not say that Trump will veto a bill that does not explicitly include wall funding. But Republicans on Capitol Hill say they aren’t sure whether Mulvaney, Kelly or Priebus represent Trump’s true position. That complicates the job for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ryan as they try to move a funding bill that can pass the House and Senate and be signed by Trump.
“Hard to know whom is speaking for Trump,” said a Republican familiar with negotiations. “No one wants to be the bearer of bad news.”
The wall money isn’t the only spending sticking point for Congress and the White House. Democrats have demanded the administration commit to funding Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies either in law through the appropriations package, or via executive branch actions by the Health and Human Services Department.
The White House had threatened to cut off funding the subsidies, a stance Trump doubled down on through a Sunday tweet: “ObamaCare is in serious trouble. The Dems need big money to keep it going – otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought.”
Trump is using the threat as a negotiation tactic to bring Democrats to the table. Mulvaney and senior White House officials have offered Democrats a dollar of Obamacare subsidy funding for a dollar of wall funding.
But so far, Democrats haven’t budged.
“I hope the president will back off,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber. He called Trump’s hard-line tactics on the wall a “political stunt” and said a shutdown “would be the height of irresponsibility. He would not want that to define his first 100 days.”
Tara Palmeri contributed to this report.
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