Congress averted a government shutdown this past weekend, but the real standoff may come in December.
President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE has been pressing Congress to deliver funding for his proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Republican leaders, eager to avoid a pre-election shutdown, punted the thorny political fight until after the midterms by providing stopgap funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies through Dec. 7.
If Republicans end up retaining their majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump may be eager to score a major legislative victory on one of his chief campaign promises before the end of the year. That would also give the GOP room to argue that Election Day results were a referendum on building the wall.
But with Democrats unlikely to compromise under either scenario, the odds of a government shutdown in December increase significantly.
“It’s possible it could lead to a shutdown,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse GOP leaders urge 'no' vote on Bannon contempt Cheney presses Republicans to back Bannon contempt vote House votes to raise debt ceiling MORE (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said of the border wall fight. “I would hope not.”
“But a lot depends on what happens in the election itself, and how it is interpreted by the two sides,” he added.
Trump on Monday alluded to the looming funding fight, saying he has a “big decision” to make on the border wall.
“I’ve got a big decision to make after the election, as to whether or not we go for it,” Trump said on Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year. “Because border security, to the people of our country, [is] very important.”
“I really think I have a very big decision to make, sometime right after the election, very quickly,” Trump said from the Rose Garden, where he was touting the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
The president went on to say that he would have preferred to put up a fight before the Nov. 6 elections, but acknowledged it could have hurt Republican candidates running in tight races.
“Do I want to do it before the election? Personally, yes, but I don’t want to do that for a different reason,” he said. “Because I have some very fine people that are running in close races and it may affect them, it may not.”
“I happen to think it would be good for them,” Trump added.
The president signed a government spending bill on Friday that fully funds the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education through fiscal 2019.
The funding package included a continuing resolution (CR), or short-term spending patch, for the remaining government funding bills that Congress failed to agree on before the Sept. 30 deadline. The CR includes money for the DHS, which has jurisdiction over Trump's proposed border wall.
Trump had previously threatened to veto any spending bills if the wall was not funded to his satisfaction. But at the behest of GOP leadership, who warned that a government shutdown could be disastrous for the party, he ultimately chose to delay that fight until after the midterms.
Most congressional observers are expecting Trump and conservatives to dig in hard after November and demand billions of dollars for the border wall in the next funding bill.
“If Republicans hold the majority, you can expect that we will put up a strong fight for funding for the wall and leave all options on the table,” said one GOP aide.
The Senate's version of the DHS spending bill would provide $1.6 billion for pedestrian fencing, while the House version includes $5 billion for the wall.
Leaders of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, who have leverage in spending talks whenever Democrats aren’t on board, have been some of the most outspoken proponents of the wall, and are promising to push for it again after the elections.
“The single biggest promise we made the American people in 2016 was building the border security wall and we haven’t got it done,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member Garland defends school board memo from GOP 'snitch line' attacks Fight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing MORE (R-Ohio), a founding member of the Freedom Caucus who is running for Speaker, told Fox News last week. “If we keep the majority and I’m given the chance to lead, we’re going to focus on getting that done.”
But Democrats, whose cooperation is needed to get any spending legislation over the finish line in the Senate, have been unwilling to support federal funding for the wall.
“We continue to oppose increased funding for the wall. We don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars,” said one Democratic aide. “That’s been our position throughout this process.”
That means Congress is barreling toward another spending showdown when the CR expires on Dec. 7, stepping up the likelihood of a partial government shutdown.
Since major parts of the government are already funded through Sept. 30, a shutdown in December could be less painful — and therefore easier — for lawmakers to go through with.
“All that makes the stakes not quite as high as a normal government shutdown, though it’s still not a good thing in my view,” Cole said.
The government shuttered for a few days earlier this year when Democrats were demanding action to protect so-called Dreamers, immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
Democrats took some heat for that shutdown, which the GOP dubbed “Schumer’s shutdown” in reference to Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.).
“We won the last shutdown fight over immigration issues,” said another GOP aide. “If we keep the House, the Democrats will have to seriously reflect on how Americans actually view illegal immigration.”
There is some concern in conservative circles that if Republicans lose the House, the GOP conference will be more willing to strike an immigration deal that protects Dreamers in exchange for funding the wall. Congress has so far been unable to come to an agreement on the issue this year, but it could be an easier lift after the midterms.
If lawmakers can’t find a path forward on immigration and the wall, they could end up passing another CR for the Department of Homeland Security. But such a measure would need a level of support in both chambers to survive a potential presidential veto.
“I can see a scenario where we stumble into a long-term CR for DHS,” Cole said. “A deal is always better than a shutdown, because then you create winners and losers. And I don’t think either side is gonna be willing to lose.”
“If we get into that, we’re gonna have a stalemate,” he added.