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 ThuneRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties 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 CapitoRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell makes strong call for masks, saying there should be no stigma Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee MORE (R-W.Va.), adding that she is certain Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project 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 Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' 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 ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up 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 JordanGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Comer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight 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 ShelbyFights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition Watchdogs express concern to lawmakers about ability to oversee coronavirus relief funds 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 McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue 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 PortmanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks Senate Democrats offer plan to extend added jobless benefits during pandemic Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls 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 CornynSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership MORE (Texas) has talked to Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdKaren Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening Democrats release bilingual ads on police reform bill 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 SchumerChuck SchumerPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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.