- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Republicans were trying to tamp down a conservative rebellion Wednesday and keep a stopgap spending bill on track ahead of a major vote Thursday, hoping to prove their party could govern and in the process trap Democrats in a shutdown showdown.

The bill includes government funding through mid-February, extends the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program and delays a series of unpopular Obamacare taxes, though it doesn’t include any action on immigration — something Democrats had demanded.

Top Democrats and Republicans did manage Wednesday to restart negotiations over a solution for illegal immigrant Dreamers by holding their first meeting in a week. In what passes as progress on Capitol Hill, they agreed to meet again Thursday to talk about how to continue meeting moving forward toward a bill that meets President Trump’s four goals.

“What we are trying to do is just get a schedule of meetings,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican. “That was the goal [to] get in a room.”

Given the time crunch, it’s unlikely any immigration deal could be added to the spending bill, which Republican leaders have scheduled for a vote on the House floor Thursday.

Republicans had hoped for easy passage in the House, where their numbers control the process, and send the bill to the Senate, where Democrats would have to decide whether to either accept the deal or filibuster, sending the government into a partial shutdown.

Republican leaders saw a chance to flip the script that for more than two decades has given them the blame for shutdown showdowns.

But conservatives were undermining those plans, threatening to defeat the spending bill unless it catered to their own demands for more military money and a promise to vote on a strict immigration crackdown bill in the future.

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and leader of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, said enough of his members were ready to vote against the stopgap bill to prevent it from passing without Democratic votes.

“I think that the Freedom Caucus has always been willing to take the hard votes when they believe that they’re speaking for millions of Americans who feel like Washington, D.C., has forgotten them,” Mr. Meadows said.

But White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said in a Fox News interview Wednesday evening that it looked like leaders would be able to avert a shutdown.

“It would seem that they have the votes to continue funding the military, take care of the child health care issue and prep some other things,” he said. “So as I understand it, they have the votes and they’re fairly confident.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday morning that Republican leaders hadn’t taken the temperature of their members, but he was hoping both parties would support the stopgap bill.

“To block funding for our military with a Friday deadline over unrelated issues just makes no sense to me. It’s wrong,” Mr. Ryan said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump doesn’t like short-term spending bills but thinks this one is necessary.

“The president certainly doesn’t want a shutdown. And if one happens, I think you only have one place to look, and that’s to the Democrats, who are holding our military and our national security hostage by trying to push through other policies that have nothing to do with the budget,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said it’s Republicans who would suffer.

“They’re in charge,” Mr. Schumer said. “Donald Trump has repeatedly said on tape, over and over again, what the country needs is a good shutdown.”

Although Republicans could pass the bill without Democratic support in the House, they would need Democrats to vote with them to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The chamber has just 51 Republicans, and one of them, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, indicated he would vote against the bill.

Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, had been negotiating an immigration plan that they wanted to be part of the spending deal. But Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, made clear that they wouldn’t allow the Graham-Durbin deal to reach the floor since the White House opposed it.

Mr. Trump repeated that opposition in an interview Wednesday with Reuters.

“It’s the opposite of what I campaigned for,” said Mr. Trump, calling the proposal “horrible” and “very, very weak.”

The plan included a generous pathway to citizenship to perhaps millions of illegal immigrants but delivered Mr. Trump less than 10 percent of his border wall and no substantive changes to the overall level of chain migration.

Mr. Graham and Mr. Durbin released details of the plan Wednesday evening and said they have a total of seven Republicans supporting them.

Mr. Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, was still going through the motions to back his bill but appeared to be acknowledging it was moribund as he rejoined negotiations with his counterparts: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, both Republicans, and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, a Democrat.

“We’re all highly motivated by the fact that come March the 5th, this program will no longer be available, and all of the work permits that currently exist for the 690,000 DACA recipients will go away,” said Mr. Cornyn. “And so we’re all committed to getting to yes, and we’re going to keep working hard until we get there.”

Democrats had argued for a self-imposed deadline of this Friday rather than March 5.

Mr. McConnell seemed to put pressure back on the White House to broker a final immigration deal.

“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” Mr. McConnell told reporters, saying the Senate can move to a bill “as soon as we figure out what he is for.”

House Democrats meeting with Mr. Kelly earlier in the day said they were disappointed that the White House wasn’t talking specifics.

“There either is a proposal or there isn’t a proposal,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Gutierrez also said Mr. Kelly called Mr. Trump’s campaign vision for a border wall paid for by Mexico “not fully informed.”

“Kelly took credit for educating the president on the wall and that a concrete barrier from sea to shining sea was no longer the conception of border security barriers supported today by the White House,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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