Congress rushes to finish spending deal with hope Trump will sign it

Congress rushes to finish spending deal with hope Trump will sign it

Nita Lowey

“Anything could stop the deal at this late stage,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Congress is racing to finalize and pass a massive funding bill designed to end a months-long standoff over President Donald Trump’s border wall and avert another government shutdown.

The legislation was still being finished Wednesday evening, with House leaders aiming to hold a vote on the package Thursday night and the Senate likely to follow quickly suit before the Friday deadline.

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Trump has yet to publicly say whether he’d sign the bill, but hinted Wednesday that he is leaning in that direction, while also praising Republicans for their border security efforts.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” Trump told reporters. “I think a lot of good points were made [in the last shutdown], but I don’t want to see another one — there’s no reason for it.”

House Democratic and GOP leaders on Wednesday each briefed their rank-and-file members on the contours of the package, which appears to have broad support despite some grumbling on the left and right.

“We should have a majority of the Republicans,” predicted Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “And it could be more.”

But, Flores cautioned, “it’s very conceptual” because “we don’t have anything to look at.”

Democrats offered similar sentiments.

“Based on the conversations that we had today, the overwhelming majority of the House Democratic caucus will support this legislation that will be presented on the House floor tomorrow,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

After two days of frenetic closed-door talks, House negotiators hoped to unveil the giant spending compromise before the end of the day on Wednesday. A floor vote is expected Thursday night around 6:30 p.m. after lawmakers return from the funeral services for Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.).

The Senate would then take up the measure and pass it, as both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have given their endorsements.

Several big sticking points in the negotiations have held up the bill’s release, including how to extend the expiring Violence Against Women Act and whether to include back-pay for federal contractors affected by the 35-day government shutdown.

“I’m told the president won’t sign that,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the back-pay provision.

On VAWA, McConnell claimed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “is objecting to a modest extension” of VAWA, adding, “This authority will expire this Friday. Republicans believe that we should follow standard procedure and extend this important legislation through the end of this fiscal year, which is about seven months.”

Democrats countered that McConnell and the White House are objecting to pay for federal contractors, a big issue for Democrats.

The most important question mark still centers on whether Trump will support the deal. Facing a barrage of questions from their conference, House GOP leaders said that Trump has indicated that he would sign the package — giving cover to some Republicans skeptical of a deal that has been lambasted by conservative commentators.

Among progressive Democrats, there was some angst on Wednesday about providing $1.3 billion for border barriers. But none seemed keen on tanking the deal and forcing a shutdown for which Democrats could be blamed.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stood up in the closed-door meeting to raise her concerns about the border security deal, particularly the compromise struck on ICE detention beds. But the Washington Democrat was generally complimentary of her party’s efforts to strike a deal, and said while she might vote against it, the Progressive Caucus is not whipping its members in opposition.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the other co-chair of the CPC, was supportive of the agreement but cautioned that he hadn’t made a final decision on how he will vote. Pocan said the CPC would meet later on Wednesday.

“Because I serve on Appropriations, I understand that you’ve got good and bad in there. We’ve got to judge the good over the bad side of it,” Pocan said. “We would’ve liked to see more done on [limiting ICE] detention beds. We would’ve like to see more done on a couple other things that are important to us. But there’s an awful lot of things that are important to our caucus in the other spending bills, as well as some restraints on what ICE can do.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), another progressive, said he’s inclined to support the bill and predicted only minimal opposition from Democrats.

“I think the vast, vast majority will support it,“ Khanna told POLITICO. “You may have a handful, single digits [opposed], but I don’t think more than that.”

Among House Democrats, the real question is how the big freshmen class will vote, particularly the coalition of progressives that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other high-profile figures. They have demanded negotiators cut Homeland Security Department funding and nix spending for ICE all together.

“I honestly want to kind of reserve commenting about it until I’ve had an opportunity to talk with fellow members of the freshman class,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), the freshmen leadership representative. “As you all know, we have an ideologically diverse freshman class.”

House GOP leaders are not explicitly telling rank-and-file members to back the deal, given that they have yet to see bill text. But they are framing it as a choice between the status quo or the chance to build new fencing and make more progress toward securing the border.

“He’s got part of a loaf, and this gives him a chance to get more of a loaf,” Flores said of Trump. “The alternative is to get no loaf at all.”

In Wednesday’s closed-door GOP Conference meeting, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the lead negotiator for House Republicans, laid out specifics on the border agreement, including the amount of money Republicans say will go to the wall. She specifically touted the issue of detention beds as a win for the GOP. There was little push-back during the meeting, according to aides and lawmakers who were present, though members did express frustration that they hadn’t seen bill text yet.

“I don’t see anything just yet that would cause me to vote against it. The alternative would be a [continuing resolution] or a shutdown,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Arkansas) said. “It’s better than nothing.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a key Trump ally in the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, cautiously predicted that Trump would sign the bill, and then proceed with other avenues to obtain wall money.

“My guess is, he might [sign it], kind of reluctantly, and then say we’re going to go with the emergency declaration. But I still think we could get something better,” Jordan said.

The Freedom Caucus would rather pass a stopgap funding bill, which would keep Republican-negotiated spending levels from last year in place. The conservative group even introduced a one-week continuing resolution Wednesday afternoon.

But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said conservatives won’t beat up Trump if he signs the border deal and takes executive action to free up more money for the wall.

“If the president were to sign this bill based on the contours of what has been reported and suggested is in the bill, and did nothing else, it would be political suicide,” Meadows told reporters. “If he signed the bill… and takes other methods to obtain funding for additional border security measures, then I think there’s very little political liability from conservatives.”

Burgess Everett, Andrew Desiderio,Heather Caygle and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

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