Legislation to temporarily fund the federal government and avert a shutdown appeared headed for passage Thursday evening, though its prospects remain uncertain in the Senate.
After teetering most of the day, the four-week spending measure won a pivotal endorsement from conservative lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus, likely providing the votes needed amid strong Democratic opposition. A House vote was expected later Thursday evening.
The White House complicated the effort with mixed signals earlier in the day. President Trump undermined the legislation in a morning tweet that appeared to pan the measure. Later the administration clarified that the president supported the bill.
Still, final passage remains in doubt due to opposition in the Senate. Conservative Republicans and defense hawks object to yet another temporary measure and want more stable funding. Democrats are rejecting the package without an immigration deal to protect so-called Dreamers from deportation.
The current spending authority for government operations ends after midnight Friday. If not extended, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed and many — but not all — government offices would be shut down.
GOP leaders had been racing to cobble together what would be their fourth short-term funding bill since last fall.
A proposed four-week extension to Feb. 16 included six years of additional funding authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for working-class kids, a provision added to help attract Democratic votes.
But most Democrats panned the measure. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) called the GOP bill a “bowl of doggy doo.”
Democrats are angry that the GOP bill lacks protections for Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents. Trump has said he will end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered the immigrants protection from deportation and work permits.
Though Trump has said he wants to help Dreamers, he is also trying to get funding for his border wall with Mexico along with other immigration law changes in return. Talks continued Thursday behind closed doors.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have worked hard to blame Democrats for any potential shutdown, but Pelosi said Republicans bear responsibility because they control the government.
“This is one of the only times ever there’s been a shutdown when one party controlled the House, the Senate, the White House,” she said, noting that Trump has previously said a shutdown might not be a bad thing. “It’s really almost like an amateur hour.”
Even some Republicans are unconvinced about the GOP plan, either because it does not include increased funding for the Pentagon or because they want to reduce government spending on principle. Others also want help for Dreamers or additional disaster aid for victims of the recent hurricanes and fires.
Republicans, with their slim 51-seat majority in the Senate, will likely need about a dozen Democrats to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, assuming some GOP senators object or miss the vote as expected.
Trump didn’t help matters early Thursday when he suddenly tweeted against including the extension of the children’s insurance program. In a tweet, Trump said funding for the program should be part of “a long term solution,” not the stopgap measure.
Some speculated that perhaps the president was not aware that the CHIP funding would be extended for six years, rather than the four weeks of the spending bill.
By lunchtime, the administration tried to clarify the confusion, insisting that the president supports the current measure in the House.
That was only after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan spoke to the president by phone and the GOP whip, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, tweeted a rebuttal.
“I’ve spoken with the president,” Ryan told reporters. “He does understand.”
The president similarly undermined a House vote last week reauthorizing a federal surveillance program until Ryan (R-Wis.) intervened and Trump reversed course.
Still, in remarks at the Pentagon Thursday morning, Trump seemed resigned to a federal shutdown.
“It could happen,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s up to the Democrats.”Later in the day, as negotiations continued, Trump left Washington to attend a rally in Pennsylvania to offer his support for a Republican congressional candidate.
Trump and other Republicans stressed the negative impact a shutdown would have on the U.S. military.
But prospects in the Senate dimmed as leading Democrats — including some who supported the last stopgap measure — said they would withhold support without a resolution for Dreamers.
The top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said he would vote against the bill, as did the Virginia Democrats, Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner, who represent large numbers of federal employees, and the New Mexico Democrats, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, who represent large numbers of immigrants and their advocates.
Senate Democrats are under great pressure from Dreamers to use their leverage to stop the bill and get an immigration deal.
And several GOP senators have also said they won’t vote for the short-term measure, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Other Republicans are also on the fence and Sen. John McCain of Arizona has not returned since going home to battle brain cancer.
Trump’s tweeting Thursday also took aim at his own chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who has been trying to reach a compromise on the issue. Kelly told lawmakers Wednesday that Trump’s border wall campaign promise was “uninformed” and that Mexico was unlikely to pay for it.
Kelly repeated his comments during a Fox News interview Wednesday night, saying Trump had “evolved” and changed his views on “a number of things” since entering the White House.
Politicians take campaign positions that “may or may not be fully informed” Kelly told Fox News on Wednesday night.
“Campaigning and governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is in the realm of the possible,” Kelly said.
But Trump, in a note of discord with his top-ranking aide, denied he’s “evolved” on building a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.”