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 TrumpDems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Five aides to Van Drew resign ahead of his formal switch to GOP The myth of the conservative bestseller 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 McCarthyGOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump rails against Fox News for planning interviews with Schiff, Comey GOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers Fox's Chris Wallace calls out Trump for the 'most sustained assault on freedom of the press' in US history 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 MeadowsTrump: Pelosi's teeth were 'falling out of her mouth' during press conference Republicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy GOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers 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 GrangerICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry 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 ShelbyLawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown McConnell accuses Democrats of stonewalling funding talks with wall demands  On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday MORE (R-Ala.), one of the key negotiators.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Lawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown McConnell accuses Democrats of stonewalling funding talks with wall demands  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 JeffriesRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay 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 HoyerDemocrats get the health care fight they want with prescription drug bill Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA On The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal 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.