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 ThuneRove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 CapitoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Republican senators skeptical of using national emergency for wall funding MORE (R-W.Va.), adding that she is certain Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress 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 TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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 ScaliseElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Democrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump 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 JordanMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify 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 ShelbyCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight 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 McCarthyElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Steve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government 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 PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight 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 CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (Texas) has talked to Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP rep in op-ed: ‘Some people affiliated with our party have made racist comments’ Texas GOP lawmaker calls Trump border crisis a 'myth' Latest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House 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 SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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.