GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s $5B wall demand

House Republicans are struggling to come up with a strategy to fulfill President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs law guaranteeing back pay for federal workers Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Congress can stop the war on science MORE’s demand that the lower chamber pass a funding bill that includes $5 billion for his promised border wall. 

 By Wednesday evening, GOP leaders still had not settled on what vehicle they would use to fund the wall or if they would even take a vote this week to do so. Lawmakers in the House have until Dec. 21 to avert a partial government shutdown and are only scheduled to work four of those days. 

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“The president is still interested in trying to get a deal,” Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise: Trump wants Congress to solve shutdown problem Scalise on Steve King's white supremacy remarks: 'There is no place for hate' House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on MORE (R-La.) told The Hill as he emerged from a leadership meeting in Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments MORE’s (R-Wis.) ceremonial office just off the House floor. “He’s been advocating for $5 billion to everybody, not just Republicans. … We support the objective of making sure the president has the money he needs to secure the border.”

In an explosive meeting in the Oval Office a day earlier, Trump told Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGovernment shutdown impasse is a leveraging crisis Overnight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions We can’t tackle climate change if we ignore the main polluter — transportation MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (D-Calif.) that he could easily push $5 billion in wall funding through the House. Pelosi told him the bill would fail spectacularly — and dared him to try.    

Now, Scalise, Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy rejects idea of censuring Steve King House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay If Republicans rebuked Steve King, they must challenge Donald Trump MORE (R-Calif.) are under enormous pressure to prove their ally in the White House was correct and that Pelosi, the likely incoming Speaker, was wrong.

But it was still unclear late in the day whether Republicans would have enough votes to pass such a package on a party-line vote. Democrats have agreed to back $1.6 billion for border security but have rejected Trump’s $5 billion demand. 

Scalise’s team did not whip a $5 billion wall package Wednesday, but they did a “bed check” to figure out which lawmakers were in the Capitol voting. Since the Nov. 6 midterm election, scores of lawmakers, including those who lost their seats and others who won higher office, have been skipping votes, complicating vote-counting efforts. 

Twenty-four lawmakers missed the vote on the farm bill Wednesday, including 17 Republicans. Among them were Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military MORE (R-Tenn.), who won a Senate seat; Rep. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemGOP seeks to ram through Trump’s B wall demand Ryan focuses on legacy as talk of shutdown dominates capital GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand MORE (R-S.D.), who won her governor’s race; and retiring Reps. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterExiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Pa.) and Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand The Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches MORE (R-Fla.).

House GOP appropriators told The Hill that one possible way to fulfill Trump’s vow for a wall was to put forth a short-term stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution that would partially fund the government into January or longer. The appropriators’ package could include the $5 billion for the wall, plus emergency disaster aid for wildfires in the West and other natural disasters.

Sources said any continuing resolution could become a “Christmas tree,” with leaders loading it up with sexual harassment legislation, a renewal of flood insurance and other year-end items.

If House Republicans can muster the votes, it’s possible the Senate would then strip out the $5 billion for the wall and send a continuing resolution back to the House with the pared-down $1.6 billion for border security. 

Democrats have offered a continuing resolution on the Homeland Security spending bill, which would maintain the 2018 funding level of $1.6 billion for border security through the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. In addition, they would agree to either continuing resolutions or new appropriation bills for the unfunded portions of the government.

Still, Trump remains the wild card. Even if Congress reaches a deal to fund the government, Trump still could veto the bill if it doesn’t include his full $5 billion request for the wall. In fact, during his meeting Tuesday with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump said he would relish the chance to shut down the government.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump said in an exchange with Schumer. “People in this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country.” 

But other senior Republicans conceded the border wall funding would largely be a messaging bill. Even if that package narrowly passes the House, it would be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the GOP needs 60 votes to beat back a Democratic-led filibuster.

“It’s not going anywhere in the Senate. How many hundreds of bills do we have other there? We have to prove yet again we can send a bill over that Schumer won’t provide 60 votes for?” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeBottom Line Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote Overnight Health Care: House files motion to defend ObamaCare in lawsuit | Trump Medicaid director leaving after three months MORE (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator and former member of GOP leadership. 

“So I see an exercise in futility. Because then you’re asking people to make tough votes over here for absolutely no good over there,” he said.

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryLocal banks can lead bipartisan efforts on financial regulation Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown GOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection MORE (R-N.C.) also said he isn’t sure bringing up legislation that can’t pass the upper chamber is in the House’s best interest from a strategic standpoint, despite expressing confidence the GOP has the votes. He said the Senate should go first.

“It has to be a bipartisan vote,” McHenry said. “I think the best move for the House is to wait and be content to know that this is a Senate-driven process at this point.”

However, members of the House Freedom Caucus, the bloc of conservative rabble-rousers closely aligned with Trump, argue that the House needs to demonstrate it can pass funding for Trump’s wall to give the president better negotiating power and drive Democrats closer to the $5 billion figure.

“The Republicans will vote for it,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “I think they’ve got the votes, if you want the truth.”

Others came close to predicting a partial government shutdown will take place.

The chance of a partial government shutdown next Friday is “more than possible,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Trump, Congress break record for longest shutdown Senate immigration talks fall apart MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable. It’s probably more than possible right now,” he told reporters in the Capitol. “It’ll shut down unless we resolve some things.”

Niv Elis contributed.