GOP set for blame over shutdown

Republicans are facing a starkly different shutdown fight as they close a difficult 2018 that will see them ushered out of the House majority.

A little less than a year ago, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE and his GOP allies enjoyed a victory in January over Democrats in what they termed the “Schumer shutdown.”

At the time, the party was riding high off Trump’s biggest legislative victory to date: passage of a huge tax-cut bill.


The GOP rejected Democratic demands to add language helping young undocumented immigrants to a government-funding bill, and then watched with glee as the opposing party took the blame for closing the government. It left Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (N.Y.) and his party scrambling to contain the political fallout.

But days away from another potential shutdown, it’s the GOP that seems sure to take the blame.

The House has been unable to pass a measure to fund the government that would meet Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for his wall at the Mexican border.

The party is also depressed after a House election that saw them lose the majority and 40 seats. Leadership in the House is in transition, with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.) focused on his farewell speeches.

And Trump’s shocking declaration that he would be “proud” to shutter the government unless he gets his border wall all but ensured that blame will fall on Republicans if no agreement is sealed.

Frustrated Senate GOP leaders appeared to throw up their hands heading into the weekend as they await some direction from the mercurial president.

“There is no discernible plan, none that’s been disclosed,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE of Texas.

It’s a perilous moment for the Grand Old Party. Either Trump folds and backs off his demand for the wall — the signature promise of his 2016 campaign — or the government will shut down over the holidays.

“The odds are 65/35 we're shutting down. I'm not optimistic we're going to see some kind of compromise on appropriations on Homeland Security,” said Rep. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellEd Markey, John Rutherford among victors at charity pumpkin-carving contest Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash House Republicans voice concerns about White House's impeachment messaging MORE (R-Mich.), the freshman representative to the GOP leadership team. “I don't see that they're going to get done bickering.”

“Trump will get the blame, but he won’t care,” added a second GOP lawmaker. “And the base will love him for it.”

House GOP leaders, hoping to protect their ally in the White House, are eyeing a vote next week on a spending package that includes the $5 billion in border wall funding Trump is demanding. But it’s unclear if they have enough Republican support to pass it, and Democratic leaders are all but taunting them with predictions that the measure will fail spectacularly.

“They do not have the votes to pass the president’s proposal — $5 billion or whatever it is for the wall,” Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing MORE (D-Calif.), who’s poised to take the Speaker’s gavel next year, said at a recent news conference. “So … if nothing is going to change in that regard, I don’t know why we just don’t proceed to keep government open so that people can be home for the holidays.”

Pelosi, along with Schumer, had met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday in a televised clash over the border wall that captivated Washington and quickly quashed any hope the Republicans had to blame Democrats for a shutdown, as they had last January.

In January, the GOP-controlled House mustered the votes to pass a short-term spending patch to Feb. 16, but Schumer and Democrats blocked it in the Senate because it failed to address immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has tried to eliminate.    

Now, it’s Trump vowing a shutdown over immigration.


“If we don't get what we want, one way or the other ... I will shut down the government. Absolutely,” Trump said as the cameras rolled. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Pelosi and Schumer had delivered two options for Trump to consider. Democrats are pushing for $1.3 billion for fencing and other border security.

Republicans are eyeing several options to keep the lights on in Washington, including the possibility of punting the border fight until the new year.

To do that, Congress could pass a very short-term stopgap bill funding the government to early January — a strategy reminiscent of the debate a year ago, which ultimately led to the “Schumer shutdown” on Jan. 20.

“There’s more drama here than substance,” quipped one GOP lawmaker who believes a pre-Christmas shutdown will be averted.

Punting the issue into January carries both risks and advantages for Republicans. On one hand, they will no longer control the House, lending Pelosi the power to decide which bill hits the floor. On the other, with Pelosi at the helm GOP leaders might have an easier time spreading the blame if the negotiations fail and the government closes.

Pelosi, for her part, vowed to reopen the government immediately in such a scenario.

“If [Trump] went down that path, as soon as we took over the Congress we would pass legislation to open up government and send it to the Senate, and we think it would then go to his desk,” she said. “But we don’t want to have to go to that place.”

Other scenarios include having the Senate vote first on a longer-term continuing resolution that includes $1.375 billion for wall-related funding, forcing the House to take it up right before funding expires and days before Christmas.  

All sides agree that everything depends on Trump. And so far, he’s shown little interest in cutting a deal with Democrats.

“Everyone is waiting on guidance on the president right now,” said one GOP appropriations source. “It’s a tricky situation; it’s a weird situation. We’re not hearing a lot.”

The latest shutdown threat also comes amid Ryan’s long farewell tour, which could still offer a glimmer of hope for Republicans.

While he’s largely deferred to other Republicans on the funding fight, Ryan, ever aware of his place in history, doesn’t want his final act in Congress to be a government shutdown.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed