House GOP Takes Another Shot With Trump-Backed Stopgap

Package has little chance of getting to president’s desk

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and House Republicans are going with a stopgap government funding bill that includes money for a border wall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and House Republicans are going with a stopgap government funding bill that includes money for a border wall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 20, 2018 at 7:06pm

House Republicans on Thursday unveiled a new stopgap spending bill with an added $5.7 billion appropriation for border security and $7.8 billion for disaster relief, despite the package having little chance of getting to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The decision to add those elements to the bill, even though the disaster aid package enjoys broad bipartisan support, complicates efforts to avert the partial government shutdown that is set to begin Friday night when the stopgap spending bill expires. The revised measure would need 60 votes to get through the Senate, where Democrats have said they’ll vote against it.

Democratic leaders have claimed the House GOP couldn’t pass a bill with the $5 billion in border wall funds Trump wants. Republicans on Thursday said such rhetoric emboldened them in seeking to put the measure on the floor.

“There’s nothing like getting a challenge from the other side’s leader that says you don’t have the votes,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Very helpful.”

Cole said he expected a vote around 8 p.m. Thursday.

Trump earlier Thursday reversed his apparent backing for the “clean” stopgap bill approved by the Senate late Wednesday, after getting pep talks from House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C. and other conservative leaders.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer said Thursday evening that should the House pass a stopgap spending bill, Senate Republicans plan to put the legislation on the floor for a vote.

“Leader McConnell has said he will schedule a vote. It will clearly not come close to getting the 60 votes that it needs,” Schumer said, while standing next to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

After the Senate vote fails, Schumer said he hopes House GOP leaders will hold a vote on the clean stopgap spending bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday night.

Schumer, D-N.Y., called the decision by House leaders to add the two provisions to the stopgap spending bill “cynical” because “everyone knows it can’t pass the Senate.”

If lawmakers and Trump cannot reach some type of agreement before Friday’s deadline nine departments and several agencies would partially shut down just days before Christmas.

The decision to add the money for construction of a border wall could bring about a bitter, partisan end to the 115th Congress as Republicans in the House face entering the minority for the first time in eight years and Trump tries to get funding for one of his key goals.

“We have no choice,” Trump said during a farm bill signing event at the White House. “Democrats continue to oppose border security no matter how many people … die.”

Using the rhetoric of his 2016 campaign, Trump contended that illegal immigration inevitably brings “chaos, crime” and “cartels” into the United States. As he often does, the president did not provide any supporting data.

Just a few minutes after Trump spoke, the House Rules Committee met to send a rule to the House floor governing debate on the new spending package.

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who lost his re-election bid, said the disaster aid figure was “the number that was agreed to by the Senate for disaster funding.”

“It’s a big number, big fires, big problem,” the Texas Republican said.

The nearly $8 billion disaster aid package, designated as emergency funding, would provide money to help rebuild and compensate victims of events such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael; volcanic eruptions in Hawaii; typhoons which struck the Philippines and Northern Mariana Islands; and wildfires that ravaged California, among others.

The package includes the following big-ticket appropriations, among other smaller items:

  • $1.1 billion in aid to crop and livestock producers.
  • $1.65 billion for emergency highway repairs.
  • $1.06 billion for Community Development Block Grants to states and localities.
  • $770 million for Army Corps of Engineers, dredging flood control and storm damage reduction projects.
  • $720 million in wildfire suppression funds.

It’s possible that the Senate could strike the $5.7 billion border appropriation, of which $5 billion is ostensibly for barrier construction, and send back an amended package to the House with the base CR text plus disaster aid.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee was advising that if the House returns the CR message to the Senate, the Senate may need to vote tomorrow. The vote would be around noon Friday.

For now, House Republicans aren’t thinking about “the other body,” as the Senate is often referred to during House floor debate. “I anticipate we’ve got enough Republicans,” Sessions said. “we ought to pass it.”

Earlier, when Meadows was asked about the wisdom of voting on a bill that can’t pass the Senate, he replied simply: “I’m not in the Senate.”

Meanwhile, GOP leaders were still facing down insurrections over the inability of Congress to squeeze through a massive public lands package, which ran into Senate objections late Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he has a “problem” if the public lands bill is not added to the stopgap along with $5 billion for the wall and disaster aid.

But he added that leadership has no plans to do that.

“They think that we will lose more votes on the Republican side by putting in than not,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Watch: Pelosi on Trump Shutdown, Border Wall, Mexico and Press Coverage

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John T. Bennett, Mary Ellen McIntire, Paul M. Krawzak and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.