House Passes Funding Extension After Trump Says 'I'd Love To See A Shutdown'

Feb 6, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 10:37 pm

Updated at 6:57 p.m. ET

The House passed a bill Tuesday evening to avert a government shutdown on Thursday, as Senate leaders still hope to clear the way for years of budget harmony this week with a long-term spending agreement.

But as Congress worked on keeping things running, President Trump made a fresh call to shut down the government over immigration.

Trump made the comments during a roundtable briefing at the White House on threats from the MS-13 criminal gang. He appeared to endorse shutting down the government if Democrats do not agree to increases in military spending and funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

"I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this taken care of," Trump said. "We need to strengthen our borders, not by a little bit but by a lot."

The House bill, approved with mostly GOP votes, would fund the government until March 23, along with a full year of military funding. The Senate is likely to change the deal before passing it — a move that would require another House vote to prevent a shutdown later in the week.

Senate leaders said Tuesday that they are nearing a deal on a budget and spending plan and could release the measure in time to add it to a short-term spending bill that must be approved by the end of the day on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to discuss the negotiations.

"I'm optimistic that very soon we'll be able to reach an agreement," McConnell told reporters after the meeting.

Schumer said the pair "are closer to an agreement than we have ever been."

That plan is expected to lock in increases for domestic and military spending for two years. Such a plan would provide Congress a much-needed respite from what has become a constant struggle to keep the government funded.

Democrats want to ensure equal increases for domestic and military programs. If Republicans agree, it could ease the way for a broad, bipartisan Senate vote on the spending plan.

Immigration on a separate track

Although a standoff over how to deal with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was at the heart of last month's government shutdown, talks over an immigration deal are now proceeding on a separate track from budget negotiations. And they may be complicated by something White House chief of staff John Kelly said to reporters during a visit to Capitol Hill.

Trump's immigration proposal includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people now in the country without legal status who came to the United States as children. About 700,000 of them signed up for the DACA program, which Trump has moved to cut off on March 5. Kelly said Trump's offer was generous and then ventured to explain why not all of those eligible had signed up for DACA in the first place.

"The difference between [690,000] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up," Kelly told reporters.

His remarks have been widely taken as racially insensitive and could make it harder for Democrats to agree to a deal with the Trump administration. But when asked to explain Kelly's choice of language, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected.

"We're focused on actually getting a solution, and frankly I think if anybody's lazy, it's probably Democrats who aren't showing up to work and aren't getting to the table to make a deal on this," said Sanders.

In reality, bipartisan negotiations on immigration in Congress are ongoing, and Democrats are actively participating.

McConnell has said he will bring an immigration bill to the floor of the Senate for open debate if no agreement is reached in conjunction with this week's budget talks.

And despite Trump's bellicose language and threat of a shutdown if he doesn't get what he wants on immigration, Sanders said that Trump wants a budget deal and that the White House doesn't expect immigration legislation to be attached to it.

House Republicans pass their own spending bill

The progress in the Senate on a potential long-term spending agreement comes as the U.S. House voted Tuesday on a stopgap spending bill to avoid another government shutdown before funding runs out at the end of Thursday.

Conservatives like the plan for long-term military spending, but they generally oppose more funding for many of the domestic policies that would get a short-term extension.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters on Monday that it would be difficult for conservatives to support a bigger budget deal that increases spending across the board.

"Based on the numbers that have bantered around, conservatives are not real wild about the non-defense discretionary," Meadows said. "Certainly that will change the mix of the vote count over on this side. If you plus up the size of government substantially, it certainly loses some conservatives."

But a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate could encourage enough House Democrats to back the bill to make up for any conservatives who balk at a broader deal.

The disagreement may mean the spending bill will bounce back and forth between the House and Senate several times in the coming days as the two sides try to resolve their differences. Lawmakers say they remain confident that a spending bill of some kind will be approved before the Thursday deadline.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We are once again days away from a potential government shutdown. Now on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats say they think they can strike a deal to avoid that scenario.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm optimistic that very soon we'll be able to reach an agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: We are closer to an agreement than we have ever been.

CHANG: That was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier today. Now, President Trump quickly cast doubt on what was supposed to be good feelings today. He suggested he'd be fine with another government shutdown if Congress doesn't deliver what he wants on immigration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We'll do a shutdown. And it's worth it for our country.

CHANG: All right, NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here with us to sort through all of this. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So what exactly is happening here? It sounds like Schumer and McConnell are talking about an entirely different conversation than what the president's talking about.

SNELL: Yeah, this is all about the Thursday shutdown deadline. I know we just finished a deadline...

CHANG: Yes.

SNELL: ...For a shutdown, but we back in that same place. They have until midnight on Thursday to keep the government open. But there's a lot of big happy talk coming out of the Senate right now. They're saying they're closer than they've ever been before on a big, long-term budget agreement that they say - that would keep them from having to fight about spending all the time. Senator Shelby, who's one of the top Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, came over to reporters and he held his fingers really close together, just a fraction of an inch apart, to show us how close they actually were (laughter).

CHANG: Nice, a visual. Well, that sounds like there's been a lot of progress since where we were left just a few weeks ago.

SNELL: Yeah. Right now it doesn't feel like anybody up here wants a shutdown. I've talked to senators and House members who say they really would like to get something done. And it would be a big deal if they could get an agreement on this, something that they're saying could last as long as two years. But in the meantime, the House has already voted to pass a stopgap spending bill. Now, that would keep the government open until March 23 and fund the military for a year. That was never likely to pass in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the idea of funding the military at a higher level than domestic programs. And on this deal that's happening in the Senate, it seems to be coming together. But like anything else in Congress, things could still fall apart.

CHANG: Right.

SNELL: Democrats have an issue with the idea, like I said, of funding the military at a higher rate than domestic spending. And conservatives are not so sure about a bigger deal, which they say would grow the federal government. And that's something they've tried to avoid.

CHANG: Now, how does the issue of immigration play into all of this? It was at the heart of the shutdown fight just a few weeks ago.

SNELL: Yeah. It became a lot less of an issue in terms of spending bills after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to vote immediately on an immigration bill after the current spending deadline. And while there are separate talks happening - there's something happening in the House and there's a group of bipartisan - the Common Sense Caucus over in the Senate, and there's a whole nother negotiation of the No. 2 leaders in the House and Senate, the - there is just a sense that, you know, they are making some progress here. (Laughter) And the White House says there's no extension on the March 5 deadline. So immigration is proceeding kind of on a separate track.

CHANG: But is it making real progress? Is a deal actually achievable in a month?

SNELL: It's hard to say. I mentioned those - all those separate negotiations.

CHANG: Yeah.

SNELL: It's hard to say where they go from here. And they don't really have a base bill to get started on voting. But I'm told McConnell is actually very serious about voting as early as Friday on some sort of proposal that they could spend the next week or so amending. And that's something that would need to get 60 votes in the Senate, and that means votes from Democrats. And it's not totally clear that what can pass the Senate with Democrats' votes could actually pass in the House. And House Speaker Paul Ryan reminded reporters today that whatever comes up in the House needs to have the support of the president. And the president calling for a shutdown if he doesn't get what he wants kind of throws a sense of uncertainty...

CHANG: Right.

SNELL: ...Into the negotiation.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.