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 TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case 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 SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs 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 RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection 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 CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine 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 MitchellProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Seven takeaways from California's recall election Opposition to California recall widens in new poll 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 PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia Democrats hope to salvage Biden's agenda on Manchin's terms 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