House

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

House Republicans are struggling to come up with a strategy to fulfill President Trump’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. 

{mosads}“The president is still interested in trying to get a deal,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill as he emerged from a leadership meeting in Speaker Paul Ryan’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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (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 McCarthy (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 Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who won a Senate seat; Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who won her governor’s race; and retiring Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Tom Rooney (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 Cole (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 McHenry (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 Shelby (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.

Tags Appropriations Bill Shuster Border wall Budget Charles Schumer Donald Trump Immigration Kevin McCarthy Kristi Noem Marsha Blackburn Nancy Pelosi Patrick McHenry Paul Ryan Richard Shelby Steve Scalise Tom Cole Tom Rooney
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video