Five things to watch as Congress braces for end-of-the-year shutdown fight 

Congress is barreling toward a deadline to prevent a partial government shutdown.

Negotiators say they don’t want to kick the funding fight to next year, but lawmakers will have just 10 scheduled work days to strike a deal by the Dec. 7 deadline.

Significant political clashes are shadowing the funding battle.


Republicans are losing power in the House and want to finish the bill while they have the majority.

{monads}House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House House Republican attempts to appeal fine for bypassing metal detector outside chamber MORE (D-Calif.) is locked in a battle for the Speakership, which could make it tougher for her to compromise.

Here are five areas to watch.

Border wall

The fight over Trump’s signature issue is the biggest threat to government funding.

The House’s homeland security bill would provide $5 billion for the border including funding for technology and new fencing, compared with $1.6 billion in the Senate’s version of the legislation — the same amount the administration got for the 2018 fiscal year. 

Senate Republicans are hoping they can negotiate a boost for the administration. But they are also managing expectations.


Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Shelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he told Trump during a recent meeting that he wanted to fund the government. He said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Ky.) want to avoid a shutdown and Trump “seemed” to agree with them.

But they’ve yet to settle on a figure with Democrats. Shelby said Republicans didn’t discuss numbers with Trump and predicted negotiating would begin in earnest after the Thanksgiving recess.

Democrats, while stressing they support border security, have appeared skeptical of budging on border money without securing a larger immigration deal. And Pelosi said last month that she didn’t “see any of us” voting for funding for the wall.

Trump has made hard-line immigration rhetoric, including a pledge to build a border wall, a key part of his political brand.

And he’s refused to take the shutdown threat off the table, saying days after his meeting with GOP leaders that it’s a “good time” for a shutdown if he doesn’t get wall funding.

Mueller investigation

Trump’s decision to remove Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsManchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Ocasio-Cortez targets Manchin over Haaland confirmation MORE and replace him with Sesssions’s former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, who is skeptical of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE’s probe, has added an explosive element to the talks.

Democrats say Trump is laying the groundwork to interfere in Mueller’s probe, and want the funding bill to include language stating that only a senior Senate-confirmed Justice Department official could fire Mueller. They also want to give Mueller an expedited recourse to challenge a firing in the courts.

“We Democrats, House and Senate, will attempt to add to must-pass legislation, in this case the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Mr. Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation,” said Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader.

There is growing support for legislation to protect Mueller in the Senate. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Tanden's path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable On The Money: What's next for Neera Tanden's nomination MORE (R-Ariz.) is opposing Trump’s judicial picks until the legislation gets a vote, and he supports adding the Mueller protection language to the government funding bill.

But House and Senate GOP leaders have dismissed the bill. McConnell said Mueller’s probe should be allowed to continue but that he didn’t believe the legislation is needed because the investigation is “in no danger.”

Disaster funding

Congress is grappling with how to respond to wildfires that have devastated California and killed nearly 80 people.

The state is expected to ask for federal assistance and its delegation is stacked with powerful members.


Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive support builds for expanding lower courts Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill What exactly are uber-woke educators teaching our kids? MORE (D-Calif.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisEmhoff reflects on interracial marriage case: Without this 'I would not be married to Kamala Harris' WHO: Coronavirus deaths down 20 percent worldwide last week Collins: Biden's .9T coronavirus package won't get any Senate GOP votes MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Senate leaders asking that Californians impacted by the wildfires be eligible for “any disaster funding or tax relief provided in upcoming appropriations legislation.”

Congress passed more than $90 billion in response to national disasters, including a string of hurricanes, earlier this year. More than $15 billion remained in the pool at the end of October, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Feinstein and Harris said they expected the money in federal disaster accounts would be “sufficient” for the state’s immediate recovery needs. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPress: The big loser: The Republican Party Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote Trump lawyer irked after senators laugh at him MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told reporters that he also wants to include between $715 million to $720 million in disaster funding for California in the Dec. 7 spending bill.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the state, even as wildfires continued to burn, saying forest mismanagement is to blame for the fire and threatening, earlier this month, to cut off federal support — something lawmakers predict he wouldn’t actually do.

Sexual harassment

Lawmakers also are trying to get a deal across the finish line to reform how Congress handles sexual harassment claims.

The House and Senate have passed separate bills overhauling their own sexual harassment policies. But there are significant differences between the two proposals, including what types of settlements members are personally liable for, the role of the chambers’ Ethics Committees and if the Senate bill’s definition of harassment is too narrow.


McConnell and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharFBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, talked “at length,” according to McConnell, about how to resolve the issue by the end of the year

Klobuchar said that she and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack Biden's unity effort falters MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the Rules Committee, are willing to sit down with the House to get an agreement.

Klobuchar added that she talked with McConnell about attaching a sexual harassment deal to a “larger bill.” That could end up being the spending bill.

Foreign aid

The funding fight comes as Trump has threatened to cut off aid to several countries.

In late October, Trump said he would “begin cutting off” aid to three Central American countries — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — in retaliation for a migrant caravan making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

But topline spending is set by lawmakers and the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which includes funding for foreign aid, is one of the seven spending bills that Congress still needs to pass by Dec. 7.


The president has repeatedly called for steep cuts to aid programs and the State Department. Those requests have been rejected by lawmakers.

Flake warned after the president’s remarks that cutting aid to the countries would likely backfire on the United States.

“One thing the president has talked about is cutting foreign aid to those countries. We have very little foreign aid going, and that aid that we do have helps them with law enforcement, drug interdiction and programs to help that population stay there. And cutting those programs indiscriminately, those benefit us as well,” he said at a CNN event last month.