GOP discord on wall prolongs shutdown fight

The government shutdown fight is increasingly shaping up as a battle among Republicans for the president’s ear.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE summoned a group of Republicans to lunch at the White House Saturday afternoon as negotiators struggled to reach an agreement to reopen the government. But members at the meeting were divided about the best path forward. 

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Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial GOP senator says it looks like House has 'weak hand' MORE (R-Ala.) urged the president to accept a spending deal that includes $1.6 billion for a border wall — a figure that Senate Democrats had agreed to just weeks ago.

But conservatives at the lunch, including some of Trump’s top allies in the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, pushed back on that idea, encouraging the president not to cave and accept what they view as a bad deal.

They are pressing the president to get — if not the full $5 billion he’s demanded for wall funding — at least as much as he possibly can.

“I want to make it very clear $1.6 billion is not going to work for conservatives, it's not going to work for the president,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (R-N.C.) told The Hill outside his office after the White House meeting.

When asked whether he and House conservatives were on the same page, Shelby demurred, saying Trump and Vice President Pence believe they would have enough House GOP members to "carry the day."

But when asked if that was possible without the $5 billion for the wall, Shelby said "Well I would say you can get to $5 billion in different ways."

One source familiar with the spending negotiations said a figure being floated by the White House is $2.1 billion, without restrictions on how the money can be spent to secure the border.

But Meadows said he expects the administration to aim for a higher figure.

"The numbers I've heard that they've floated — and it's not an offer — have been much higher than that,” he told The Hill.

Also in attendance at the lunch  — where guests were served braised short-ribs and mashed potatoes  — were freshman Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz in Twitter battle with Florida House Republican Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Conservatives slam Warren's call to put transgender women in women's prisons MORE (R-Fla.), a firebrand conservative and frequent guest on Fox News, and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown George Conway group drops ad seeking to remind GOP senators of their 'sworn oaths' ahead of impeachment trial House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally who has still publicly disagreed over foreign policy issues.

“It’s got to be more than $1.6 billion dollars,” Graham told ABC News in an interview after the meeting. “I don't want to accept the idea that you won't get a penny more.”

But Shelby argued that Trump could secure additional money for the wall by tapping funds from elsewhere in the budget — an idea floated by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders just days ago.

Shelby also suggested to the president that they try to reach an agreement before the GOP relinquishes control of the House to Democrats on Jan. 3.

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"I told the president that I thought that we ought to cut the best deal that we could now, but it would be up to them,” Shelby told The Hill following the lunch. “And I also told him ... that come Jan. 3 the political equation changes. Some of those guys don't realize that.”

Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-Calif.), who will likely become Speaker next year, wrote to her troops Saturday with assurances that Democratic leaders won’t cave on the wall, even if it means the government remains closed into next year.

“Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic Majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

It remains unclear how much the president is willing to compromise on his $5 billion demand for border wall funding. Conservative radio and TV hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity personally lobbied Trump to shut the government down if Democrats don’t give him his wall; Trump got the message and vowed to fight.

“The crisis of illegal activity at our Southern Border is real and will not stop until we build a great Steel Barrier or Wall,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon. “Let work begin!”

While the Freedom Caucus members and Graham were strategizing in the Rayburn Office Building after the White House lunch, Pence was huddling with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (D-N.Y.) on the other side of the Capitol.

Schumer has said repeatedly that Democrats simply won’t support another dollar for Trump’s promised border wall — a project he characterized Saturday as “expensive, ineffective” and unpopular. Schumer accused Trump of being “beholden to the far, far right.”

“It will never pass the Senate,” Schumer vowed. “Not today, not next, not next year.”

Leaving Schumer’s office in the Capitol, Pence gave no details of the discussion.

"Still talking," Pence said.

But there was no indication if any progress had been made, and a number of sources suggested both sides are dug in.

“They are not even close to a deal,” one administration source said. “Schumer is throwing out all sorts of bullshit requests that he knows we won’t support and that doesn’t have the votes.”

Meadows, who is slated to travel back to North Carolina for Christmas on Sunday, also questioned whether Schumer is negotiating in good faith.

“The conversations with Schumer and them have to, you know, produce some fruit in terms of what an offer may or may not look like,” he said. “I do not believe that Sen. Schumer is serious about negotiating based on the conversations that I've heard and you know until he is serious about reaching a reasonable compromise it's not worth the time.“

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public George Conway group drops ad seeking to remind GOP senators of their 'sworn oaths' ahead of impeachment trial GOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles MORE (R-Ky.) said Saturday that he’s largely on the sidelines of the debate, as the White House and Senate Democrats try to hammer out the details of an agreement.  

“The talks that count are between the Senate Democrats, whose votes you need, and the administration,” McConnell said. “So I’m pulling for them."

“Whatever the president and the Senate Democrats can negotiate is what we’re prepared to pass,” he added.

For all the aggressive jockeying from conservatives, they, too, suggested they’ll support whatever deal Trump ultimately backs.

Meadows, for instance, acknowledged on Friday that if Trump were to publicly back a deal, “certainly” some conservatives would come along.

McConnell adjourned the Senate on Saturday afternoon with no deal in sight. In a procedural move, he carved out pro forma sessions on Christmas Eve and again on Dec. 27 — a maneuver that essentially bracketed off Christmas Day, while allowing space both before and after the holiday for the Senate to act if a deal is secured.

“If an agreement is reached, then we’ll come back and pass it,” McConnell said, leaving the chamber floor.

The majority leader said establishing that calendar is no indication that negotiators remain far apart.

“I wouldn’t take that as a sign of that,” he said.

McConnell also rejected the notion that allowing for a pro forma session on Dec. 27 means the shutdown will last at least that long.

“Listen, anything can happen,” he said. “We’re pulling for an agreement that can get 60 votes in the Senate and a majority of votes in the House.”

— Jordain Carney contributed