Republican leaders seek to calm shutdown worries

Republican leaders seek to calm shutdown worries
© Stefani Reynolds

Senate Republican leaders are telling rank-and-file members that they will avert a partial government shutdown in early December, acknowledging that failing to do so would be a political liability for the GOP.

Republican senators warned Vice President Pence at a lunch meeting Tuesday that a shutdown, even a partial one, would be a mistake.

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“The vice president was around chatting with people afterward and before, and I think that message was pretty clearly conveyed,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.). “We don’t see anything good coming out of a shutdown.”

There’s a growing sense within the GOP that they will get blamed for any shutdown over border security.

“I don’t think there’s the stomach for a shutdown,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-W.Va.), adding that she is certain Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) “is reinforcing that to the president.”

“I think we’re going to avoid that at all costs,” she said.

Congress must pass legislation funding about 25 percent of the government by Dec. 7 to avoid shuttering a variety of federal agencies.

“We’re doing everything we can to get this bill done,” Thune said, adding that McConnell “believes shutdowns are in nobody’s interest.”

Still, many Congress watchers are nervous, given the brief partial shutdown earlier this year after McConnell said there wouldn’t be one.

On Tuesday afternoon, House Republican leaders went to the White House to see what options President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE might be willing to accept. After the meeting, they said the president was firm about wanting $5 billion for border security, which is substantially less than the $25 billion estimated cost to build a wall along the 1,900-mile border with Mexico.

“President Trump’s been very adamant that we need to get the $5 billion for border security, and that’s something that we’re very committed to following through on,” House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseManchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Sunday shows - Trump's Epstein conspiracy theory retweet grabs spotlight Sanders: Trump doesn't 'want to see somebody get shot' but 'creates the climate for it' MORE (R-La.) told reporters after the meeting.

“We see with the caravan there are serious threats to our border, and keeping this country safe is a top priority of the president, and he’s laid out what it’s going to take to keep the country safe,” he added.

House leaders are also feeling pressure from conservatives in their conference.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews MORE (R-Ohio), a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, warned Tuesday there would be a backlash from the GOP base if Congress comes up short on funding border security.

“That was the biggest promise Republicans made to voters in 2016, so we had better fight for that, we had better put that on the Dec. 7 funding bill,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

“We got to insist on it,” he added.

One Republican senator who requested anonymity to talk about internal discussions noted that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIs this any way for NASA to build a lunar lander? In-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (R-Ala.), who has been in direct contact with Trump, is sounding optimistic in private conversations about reaching a deal.

Shelby has proposed $5 billion for the border wall over a two-year period.

“I would hope that we can reach our goal to fund the government,” he said. “We’ve made some overtures. We’re not there yet. We think there’s a good chance we’ll make the deadline, but it hasn’t crystalized yet.”

Trump had previously told lawmakers that he won’t accept any year-end spending package that increases border security funding by less than $5 billion.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King defends remarks on rape, incest Omar says US should reconsider aid to Israel I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King MORE (R-Calif.), after meeting with Trump, said he would review Shelby’s proposal more closely.

“I have to look at the language and make sure the money is there — see how they write it,” he said.

Some Republicans are pushing for a compromise that would increase money for border security in exchange for legislation protecting from deportation immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Those young immigrants have been at risk of deportation ever since Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year.

Thune and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting MORE (R-Ohio) have a bill that would establish a trust fund for border security and also codify protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

Separately, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas) has talked to Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas) about the possibility of adding to the year-end spending package a bipartisan measure that would increase border security through enhanced technology and manpower and protect DACA recipients from deportation.

Republican lawmakers said Trump won’t get a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but said Democrats will go along with increased spending for border security.

“It won’t be a physical wall,” said a Republican member of the Homeland Security Committee who added that whatever spending increase Congress approves will likely cover only a few hundred miles.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said that Democrats don’t want to spend more than the $1.6 billion already negotiated in the Senate’s Homeland Security appropriations bill.

“The $1.6 billion for border security negotiated by Democrats and Republicans is our position. We believe that is the right way to go,” Schumer told reporters.

Democrats are confident that Republicans will get blamed for any shutdown since they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“If there’s any shutdown, it’s on President Trump’s back,” Schumer said. “Left to our own devices, the Senate and House could come to an agreement.”

Schumer noted that the administration hasn’t “spent a penny of the $1.3 billion they requested in last year’s budget” for border security.

Democrats have also called for adding legislation to the year-end spending package that would protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE from being fired without just cause.

Cornyn told reporters Tuesday that he is checking with colleagues to see if it has enough support to pass, but that doesn’t mean it will be put on the floor for a vote or added to the spending deal.

“We’re whipping that to see where people are,” he said. “I think the leader needs that information to decide how to manage all the competing demands on our time.”

But McConnell later called the Mueller legislation “irrelevant” and a “solution in search of a problem.”

“The president is not going to fire Robert Mueller, nor do I think he should,” he said. “We have a lot of things to do to try to finish up this year without taking votes on things that are completely irrelevant to outcomes.”

McConnell said he would “probably” block any effort to bring a Mueller protection bill to the Senate floor.

Juliegrace Brufke and Jordain Carney contributed.