Congress hits gas on border deal

Lawmakers are rushing to pass a bipartisan border deal that would prevent a looming government shutdown and resolve the long-standing impasse over President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE’s border wall.

The Senate will go first and vote Thursday. Then, Democratic leaders said, the House will take up the funding package Thursday evening and send it to Trump. That should give the president plenty of time to sign the bill into law before money runs out for a handful of federal agencies at midnight Saturday.

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But the top two GOP leaders — Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (R-La.), close Trump allies — said Wednesday they would not commit to voting for the deal until they got a chance to read the bill’s text.

“I want to make sure we have enough time to thoroughly read the bill,” McCarthy told reporters. “Why would anybody say they are voting for something they have not read yet?”

Democrats said they planned to unveil the legislation Wednesday night.

 

To try to slow things down, the far-right House Freedom Caucus rolled out a one-week stopgap funding bill, or continuing resolution (CR), to buy lawmakers more time to read the bill — an effort that will be ignored by Democrats who control the floor. 

Dozens of Republicans are expected to vote no on the deal, with one leadership ally predicting there could be as many as 140 GOP defections during the Thursday roll call. That would mean, rather than a big bipartisan vote in the House, newly empowered Democrats largely would be responsible for pushing the funding bill across the finish line.

Democrats were unsuccessful in their push to include backpay in the final legislation for federal contractors who were furloughed in the shutdown, a move that the White House opposed.

The legislation also will not renew the Violence Against Women Act or include a new disaster aid package, according to a House aide. Those issues are expected to be considered separately at a later date, the aide said.

Trump has been critical of the legislation, and while he is widely expected to sign it he has not flatly said that he would. He called Democrats “stingy” for failing to deliver the $5.7 billion he had been demanding for his wall on the southern border.

At the same time, he signaled Wednesday that he didn’t have the appetite for another shutdown after the 35-day closure in December and January left more voters blaming the White House than Democrats.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. Shutdown would be a terrible thing,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

And Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers request documents on DC councilman ethics investigation House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, predicted Trump would sign the border legislation even as conservatives publicly oppose it.

Trump is expected to make other moves that would buttress the funding he gets from Congress for barriers on the border with Mexico.

Trump signaled that he’s planning some sort of executive action to reprogram billions of dollars toward building more barriers and increase the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds, another major sticking point in the negotiations.

The bicameral leaders of the conference committee — the group that negotiated the deal — dismissed concerns about rushing the legislation. Texas Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerLobbying world House approves bill increasing federal worker pay House approves 3 billion spending package MORE, the top House GOP negotiator, briefed her colleagues in a closed-door meeting on the contours of the agreement and has been personally updating her fellow GOP appropriators, Republican lawmakers said.

“We've got a deadline coming up. … They basically know what's in the bills,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Schumer warns Mulvaney against drawing hard lines on budget deal MORE (R-Ala.), one of the key negotiators.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump officials to investigate French tax on tech giants | Fed chair raises concerns about Facebook's crypto project | FCC blocks part of San Francisco law on broadband competition | House members warn of disinformation 'battle' MORE (D-N.Y.), Shelby’s counterpart in the talks, similarly warned that the only other course would be yet another short-term CR.

“And that wouldn't be good for most people,” she said.

Democratic leaders defended their decision to abandon the “72-hour rule,” which requires legislation to be made public three days before it is voted upon.

They said the unique nature of the current spending fight and a bipartisan desire to prevent a second government shutdown justified their move.

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou Jeffries3,100 to be released from prison under criminal justice reform law House Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify Democratic staffer says Wendy Davis will run for Congress MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said negotiators have given their colleagues briefings “regularly.”

“We trust and expect that members are sufficiently briefed in the context of this particular narrow circumstance where we're trying to avoid another government shutdown,” he said.

Trump could declare a state of emergency to access defense funds, or take steps to retool general operations funds from the Department of Homeland Security. Such actions would likely be met with lawsuits and loud condemnations from Congress.

But the president would be committing “political suicide” if he signs the bill without taking unilateral actions, Meadows argued. If Trump “takes other methods to obtain funding for additional border security measures, then I think there's very little political liability from conservatives."

In recent days, top negotiators have delayed the bill’s rollout repeatedly. The top appropriators from each chamber failed to meet their own Feb. 8 deadline to strike a deal, and after hitting an impasse over the weekend, hastily announced that they had reached an agreement in principle Monday night.

But that tentative deal did not resolve all issues.

“I think it was very premature to say that there was a deal. I think there was the potential for the deal, but I believe they were still negotiating last night,” said Meadows, who questioned reported plans for Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Md.) to bring the bill to a vote on Thursday evening.

“Maybe Leader Hoyer has actually seen the bill. I don't think so,” he said.

Since Monday, questions arose over the specifics of where the barrier could be built along the border, what areas would be prioritized, how protected areas might remain unharmed and how to give local authorities a say in the process.

The White House pushed back against Democratic attempts to attach a bill that would give back pay to low-wage contractors furloughed during the last shutdown, arguing it would be too costly to administer. Negotiators also clashed over whether to include an extension for the Violence Against Women Act, or deal with it separately.

“Snags happen, because people are learning about it and saying ‘well what about this, what about this,’ ” said Granger, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We don’t want to learn that after we’ve voted on it,” she added.

Even some members of the conference committee had been left in the dark well after the negotiations were completed.

“He learned about it and had to get specifics through the press. And he’s a member of the committee!” said an aide to one of the GOP conferees.

Jordain Carney, Cristina Marcos, Mike Lillis and Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:20 p.m.