GOP leaders hope to circumvent Trump on shutdown

Senate GOP leaders are carefully planning an appropriations process that will diminish the chances of President Trump triggering a government shutdown weeks before Election Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday expressed confidence that a shutdown would be avoided despite the threats from Trump, who is seen as the wildcard in the debate.

Trump is threatening to force a shutdown if Congress does not provide funding for his border wall.

{mosads}He doubled down on his threat Monday during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“If we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” Trump declared.

Hours later, McConnell responded: “I’m optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown.”

For now, McConnell and his team are planning a punt of sorts on the issue.

With the House out for the August recess, the Senate is focused on winning approval before the end of September on a defense spending bill and possibly a large domestic spending measure that would include appropriations for the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. The Senate is expected to be in session for most of August.

Congress would then have the month of September to work out a deal between the House and Senate on those bills.

This would put off consideration of an appropriations bill covering the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the border, until after the election.

But if Trump demands that Congress take action on the wall before the end of September, all bets are off.

On Monday, GOP senators returning to Washington made it clear they viewed the prospect of a shutdown as a risky political move ahead of the election.

“Well, I mean, obviously up here we want to keep the government up and functioning, so, you know, I’m not sure where the president is coming from,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate GOP leader.

“We understand he wants wall funding, and we all get that. But, I don’t think there’s any appetite up here for anything particularly at the end of the fiscal year that would create problems for government funding,” he added.  

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a prominent moderate, said Republicans should avoid a shutdown over the border wall. 

“I didn’t think that government shutdowns are ever productive. They represent a failure to govern effectively. They cause disruption and they end up causing taxpayers more money than would otherwise be spent,” she said. “I think we should keep proceeding and doing our work.”

The GOP’s approval rating plummeted in 2013 after conservatives provoked a 16-day shutdown in an attempt to stop the implementation of ObamaCare.

McConnell declared at the time that he would not allow another shutdown, reciting a Kentucky favorite maxim, “There is no education in the second kick of a mule.”

Senate Democrats forced a three-day shutdown in January over Trump’s rescinding of protections for illegal immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program but they quickly ended the standoff as it became clear they would pay a political price for it.

Government funding lapsed for a few hours in February after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected to the cost of a bipartisan spending deal but it did not result in the furlough of any federal workers.

If Trump caused a shutdown before the election by vetoing a governmentwide funding bill, Republicans would likely get the blame and it could bolster Democratic candidates who argue that voters need to elect them to serve as a check on the president.

McConnell told a local radio station Friday that the Homeland Security spending bill will “probably” wait until the end of the year.

Asked during an appearance on News Radio 840 WHAS whether funding for the border wall would wait until after the election, McConnell said “probably, and that’s something we do have a disagreement on.”

McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) plan to send at least seven appropriations bills not related to homeland security to Trump’s desk before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, according to a senior Republican aide.

“We passed three appropriations bills, we’re going to pass four more — that’s seven of the 12. We got the whole month of August dedicated to doing appropriations legislation,” the aide said, arguing that funding most of the federal government will be locked in before the election.  

The Senate passed three appropriations bills in late June covering energy and water projects, the legislative branch, military construction and veterans affairs. 

The aide added that the Homeland Security spending bill will move after the election.

“He spoke about it last week on the radio. He said the [Department of Homeland Security] is likely to be after the election,” the source said. “Everybody needs to take the panic button down a couple notches.”

That way even if Trump vetoes a stop-gap spending measure that covers border security, it would shut down only a few agencies.

But that’s a worst-case scenario.

GOP leaders hope that Trump will sign a stop-gap measure funding the Department of Homeland Security before the election so the border wall can be negotiated in the second half of November or December.

The senior GOP aide pointed to statements of administration policy released by the White House budget office that have expressed satisfaction with the other spending bills.

“We’ve got an orderly appropriations process going through here and I’m hopeful to get most if not all of the appropriations done” before the election, said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate GOP leader.

Republican lawmakers acknowledge there’s always a dose of uncertainty when dealing with Trump.

Ryan told reporters last week that the president had indicated during a private White House meeting with GOP leaders that he’d be willing to postpone a fight over the border until year’s end.

“The president’s willing to be patient to make sure that we get what we need so we can that done,” Ryan said Thursday.

But Trump undercut that claim with his tweet Sunday and comments Monday.

“He has his own unique style,” Cornyn observed on Monday afternoon when asked about Trump’s unpredictability.

Jordain Carney contributed. 

Tags Budget Donald Trump John Cornyn John Thune Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rand Paul Shutdown Susan Collins

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