GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown

It’s only June, but President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE’s laserlike focus on immigration and desire for a border wall are making GOP lawmakers nervous that lagging talks on a budget deal could further bog down and lead to another government shutdown.

Trump is demanding $5 billion in border wall funding as part of a deal that would put limits on federal spending and raise the debt ceiling.

ADVERTISEMENT

A senior administration official on Friday said the Senate should put together appropriations bills that fund the president’s border wall request. The GOP Senate could then negotiate with Democrats in the House on compromise versions of the spending bills later this year.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Schumer warns Mulvaney against drawing hard lines on budget deal MORE (R-Ala.) and other Senate Republicans see that as a risky strategy that could lead to another stalemate and potential government shutdown at the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE (R-Ky.) and other Senate Republicans are eager to avoid the chance of another government shutdown, but Trump is more focused on revving up his conservative base ahead of the 2020 presidential election. He wants to show he’s doing everything to deliver on his top campaign promise: building the wall.

Trump tweeted a quote this past week from GOP pollster John McLaughlin declaring that the president has “delivered on keeping America Stronger & Safer.”

Getting more money from Congress for a border wall would make that argument stronger.

Shelby doesn’t think Democrats will agree to $5 billion for a border wall, even if some Republicans think the allocation can be euphemistically described or “massaged” as funding for “border barriers” or “border infrastructure.”

A meeting Wednesday afternoon between Shelby, McConnell and several senior GOP appropriators and senior White House officials failed to yield a breakthrough.

“I think the biggest problem is the wall funding,” said a GOP lawmaker familiar with the talks. “They want $5 billion. I don’t think they’re going to get $5 billion for the wall.”

Trump’s demands for the wall funding are being delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Don't let budget talks threaten Medicare Part D The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Trump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report MORE, the former fiscal hard-liner from the House who has repeatedly rubbed Senate Republicans the wrong way.

A second Republican lawmaker said senators are frustrated with Mulvaney, who has been digging in his heels on the two-year spending deal preferred by McConnell and Shelby.

“Did Mulvaney ever vote for a spending bill in the House? I don’t think so,” the source said. 

Shelby and others argue the two-year deal is critical to keeping the U.S. military adequately prepared to face Iran and other international threats.

The wall isn’t the only problem negotiators face.

Mulvaney and Mnuchin are worried about the potential political backlash if Trump signs a deal with Democrats that dramatically increases nondefense spending.

A two-year budget deal could increase spending by almost $350 billion over the next two years and exceed $2 trillion over the next decade based on the analysis of the two-year deal Trump and Congress agreed to last year.

Yet increasing nondefense spending seems unavoidable if Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress MORE (D-Calif.) is to back the deal.

“Pelosi’s numbers are not going to be accepted by Senate Republicans,” the source said.

Pelosi and House Democrats are moving their version of the annual spending bills without an agreement on the top-line numbers with the White House and Senate.

Acting White House budget director Russell Vought on Thursday cast Pelosi as the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal and warned she could put the creditworthiness of the nation at risk by holding up the debt limit.

“The threat by Speaker Pelosi to oppose a debt limit increase until the administration agrees to Democrats’ $2 trillion in unaffordable spending increases is reckless and irresponsible,” Vought said in a statement.

A third GOP lawmaker said Mulvaney and the White House are leery of criticism from the House Freedom Caucus and conservative media outlets if a spending bill raises the deficit significantly.

“You also have to get the House Republicans on board so they won’t denounce what the Senate does. Nobody really thinks about that. If they come out against it, then you’re going to have the conservative media say it’s a terrible deal,” the senator said, adding that Mulvaney and Mnuchin are “concerned about the debt and rightfully so.”

But the lawmaker said Senate Republicans are worried about avoiding another shutdown.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go through what we went through last year,” the senator said.

McConnell, speaking to a small group of reporters in April, said a two-year spending deal was needed to avoid a possible government shutdown or yearlong continuing resolution.

He said a deal “typically ruffles feathers among some on your own side” but added that “this is sort of the basic work of government that has to be done.” 

Republicans are somewhat optimistic that Shelby can work out a deal with Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Democrats grill USDA official on relocation plans that gut research staff MORE (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on his committee, despite the Pelosi demands.

Shelby and Leahy took an overnight flight Thursday to Europe to attend the start of the Paris Air Show, giving them more one-on-one time to discuss a spending deal.

The two veteran senators have been able to work out deals in the past.

But all sides say the fight over the fall funding, which triggered a partial government shutdown earlier this year, is a real problem.

The $5 billion number that Trump is demanding comes from the Department of Homeland Security portion of the president’s 2020 budget.

His request makes $5 billion for construction of the border wall a high priority and also asks for $506 million to hire more than 2,800 additional law enforcement officers and other personnel at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The focus of Wednesday’s meeting in McConnell’s office was on the macro spending numbers, and administration officials did not put the controversial topic of the border wall up for discussion.

Instead, a Senate Republican asked if the funding for the wall could be omitted or drastically downsized to avoid another partisan confrontation and government shutdown at year’s end.

“The discussions haven’t been focused on specific program funding but on overall spending top lines, yet it is frustrating that the administration requests for critical border funding continues to be ignored by Congress. It doesn’t make much sense that Republican appropriations bills wouldn’t include Republican priorities before negotiations with Democrats have even started,” said a senior administration official.

Asked about GOP frustration with Mulvaney’s role in the spending talks, Leahy said, “The impression I get is that Republicans are tired of having somebody trying to micromanage it that has nothing to do with the final result.”

“Dick Shelby and I will work something out,” he said.