Shutdown drama grips the Capitol

House Republican leaders are within striking distance of securing enough GOP votes to pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, which would shift the funding fight to the Senate.

But they aren’t out of the woods just yet. Many members of the House Freedom Caucus are vowing to oppose the spending measure unless leadership commits to putting a conservative immigration bill on the floor and boosting defense spending, which could make Thursday’s floor vote on the continuing resolution (CR) a nail-biter.

Still, rank-and-file lawmakers and GOP leaders alike expressed confidence throughout Wednesday that their party would find the votes necessary to carry their legislation through the House.

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerTo boost minority serving institutions, bipartisan Future Act needs immediate action Pressure rises on Cheney to make decision NCAA urges California governor not to sign 'fair pay' bill for college athletes MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, estimated in the afternoon that the whip count for the short-term funding bill was “somewhere between 210 and 215” votes.

Leadership can only afford to lose 21 Republican votes and pass the funding bill without Democratic support, according to the majority whip’s office.

The House CR, which would fund the government through Feb. 16, includes a six-year extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It would also delay three ObamaCare taxes, something that was added to attract more conservative support.

“There’s still some work to do, but I think it will pass,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeSenate spending talks go off the rails as soon as they begin Social determinants of health — health care isn't just bugs and bacteria Republicans suffer whiplash from Trump's erratic week MORE (R-Okla.), a top appropriator, said Wednesday.

Passage of the bill would shift pressure from House Republicans to Senate Democrats in the shutdown fight.

While Senate Democrats have been taking a tough line, it could be hard for the party to block a bill that was passed out of the House and includes CHIP funding.

Democratic senators up for reelection in red states are particularly wary of forcing a government shutdown over immigration.

The White House expressed support for the House's continuing resolution Wednesday, which could help sway some undecided Republicans.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Wis.) and his top lieutenants feel they are moving in the right direction, but they have little room for error as most Democrats are vowing to oppose any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children.

Leaders gave themselves a safety valve in case things don’t go according to plan on Thursday. late Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee granted lawmakers the authority through Saturday to bring any bill to the floor the same day that it is considered by the Rules panel – a process meant to speed up a measure’s consideration in the House.

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Hasan Minhaj tells Congress: Student loan debt is 'sidelining millions of Americans' Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections MORE (R-N.C.), who is acting as the GOP’s top vote counter this week, was seen furiously working the House floor Wednesday night rounding up the votes for the continuing resolution. He huddled with Freedom Caucus members, House Armed Services Committee members and Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloPelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House The Hill's Morning Report - Congress returns: What to expect Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Fla.).

The Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, has railed against the short-term funding patch — the fourth since September — and expressed skepticism over broader immigration negotiations on Capitol Hill.

Some Freedom Caucus lawmakers are putting pressure on leadership to pass an immigration measure authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.) and Freedom Caucus member Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) in exchange for their support on the CR.

"We're making progress, yet still, at this point, if the vote were to happen today, there's not the votes to fund it with Republican-only votes," said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, as he emerged from a meeting with McHenry in the Speaker's office on Wednesday evening.

The Goodlatte legislation, which has attracted support from both the conservative and moderate wings of the GOP conference and has buy-in from key committee chairmen, includes more conservative immigration priorities than are expected to be included in any bipartisan deal on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“We don’t wanna get rolled by the Senate on DACA and the budget,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.).

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTexas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks House panel calls for Afghanistan envoy to testify about deal with Taliban, hints at subpoena MORE (R-Texas), another lead sponsor on the Goodlatte bill, said a commitment from leadership on his immigration bill could help win more support for the stopgap bill.

“That certainly would help, in terms of whipping votes on the CR,” McCaul said.

But leadership, while supportive of the Goodlatte approach, has so far resisted calls to put the bill on the floor. It’s unclear whether the legislation could pass the House, and even if it does, it’s likely dead on arrival in the Senate. There is also concern the vote could roil the sensitive, high-level negotiations on a bipartisan DACA deal.

“We’re working on the Goodlatte bill,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE (R-Calif.), when pressed by The Hill on whether leadership has committed to a floor vote yet.

Some Freedom Caucus members are also pushing leadership to fund the Pentagon at higher levels for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year and pass a short-term CR for the rest of the government — an idea favored by some defense hawks, but that went nowhere during the previous debate over a CR.

Both Reps. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped GOP Senate candidate 'pissed off' at Trump over health care for veterans House GOP fears retirement wave will lead to tsunami MORE (R-Ala.) and Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLiz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate Overnight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea MORE (R-Wyo.), two members of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday night they may vote against the CR because it harms military readiness and puts U.S. troops at risk.

Meadows acknowledged that a full year of funding for the Pentagon is unlikely to be added to the CR at this point, but said money for defense spending anomalies and a pay raise for the troops could help sway some members into the "yes" column.

If some Freedom Caucus members band together with enough defense hawks, they could tank GOP leadership’s strategy to avert a government shutdown.

Other Republican votes could also be hard to get. Curbelo has also threatened to vote against the CR without a DACA deal in place, while Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieAirports already have plenty of infrastructure funding Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) is a perennial “no” vote on short-term funding bills.

Still, GOP leadership may be able to pass the funding bill without boosting defense spending or promising a vote on Goodlatte’s immigration bill.

A Republican leadership aide said that vote counters were pleased with where things stood as of Wednesday evening, noting that conversations were still ongoing.

The growing sense is that most of the GOP conference will end up grudgingly supporting the CR because it’s better than the alternative, which would either be shutting down the government or giving leverage to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico This week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill MORE (D-Calif.).

And Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHistory in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week Democrat grills DHS chief over viral image of drowned migrant and child Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (D-Va.), who represents a large swath of the federal workforce, told WJLA he would ultimately support the CR if he were the decisive vote to keep the government open. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’ll build support, and we’ll get there. We always get there,” Rep. Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Overnight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the Republican whip team, told reporters Wednesday morning. “Sometimes, some of my friends want to make it more exciting than it has to be.”

House Republicans may also be eager to hand off the political football to the Senate, where the fate of a CR is less certain. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-S.C.) vowed to oppose a CR, while Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.) is undecided, meaning support from at least 10 Democrats will be needed to overcome a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban MORE (R-Ky.) said the House continuing resolution seems like it should be “a rather attractive package” for Democrats.

"I'm certainly going to take up what the House sends us. The Democrats in the Senate have been very consistent in clamoring for addressing the children's health care program. This does it with a six-year reauthorization,” McConnell said.

"I believe we have a good chance of passing it,” he said.

Scott Wong, Mike Lillis, Jordain Carney and Alex Bolton contributed.