Republicans on Capitol Hill did not echo President Donald Trump’s call to shut down the government over immigration policy Wednesday, saying they neither want nor expect the government to run out of money this week.
Senate leaders announced on Wednesday afternoon that they had reached a bipartisan deal that would fund the government for two years after Democrats set aside their demand that the status of those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals be dealt with first.
That compromise would still need to be passed in the House—which has so far only approved a continuing resolution to provide government funding through mid-March—and signed by the president by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to avert a shutdown.
The proposed agreement, which boosts both military and domestic spending by a total of about $400 billion, could face opposition in the House from conservatives and some Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who still want a guaranteed vote on DACA. Pelosi commandeered the House floor for more than seven hours Wednesday to express support for DACA recipients.
Trump said Tuesday that he would “love to see a shutdown” if Congress does not reach an agreement on immigration that addresses all of his priorities, which include dealing with DACA, funding for a border wall, and eliminating preferences for extended family relationships and the diversity lottery in the legal immigration system. However, he tweeted Wednesday that he supports the budget deal reached in the Senate.
Since Trump announced the end of the DACA program last fall, protection from deportation for so-called Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, is set to expire on March 5. Democrats forced a weekend shutdown last month demanding a permanent fix, but the issue remains unresolved.
At the time, Trump excoriated Democrats and mocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for putting their immigration priorities ahead of funding the military. He seemed to embrace that approach himself on Tuesday, but some Republicans downplayed his comments Wednesday, suggesting they should not be taken literally.
“This is the president again just trying to drive a hard bargain,” Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V., said. “He’s a negotiator. We don’t want the government to shut down.”
According to Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Trump’s point may have been that he and the American public do not want another shutdown over the status of DACA recipients.
“I think his point is we should not be shutting down the government if the only reason to shut down the government comes down to amnesty for illegal immigrants,” he said, “and I think he’s on the high ground there.”
Republicans made clear, though, that they would not love to see a shutdown.
“The last thing we should be thinking about is shutting down the government because there is collateral damage and consequences to doing that,” said Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., encouraging the Senate to back the continuing resolution already passed in the House.
“Shutdowns are not good for anybody,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “Nobody ever wins with a shutdown. In fact, we all lose and it costs the taxpayer money.”
Democrats found Trump’s input unhelpful and contradictory to the message coming from Republican leadership in Congress as they moved closer to a bipartisan budget agreement.
“When out of left field yesterday the president said he might want a shutdown,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., “most people basically saw that in our Twitter feeds and we just rolled our eyes and said, ‘Whatever.’”
According to Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Trump has a habit of complicating negotiations in Congress with inflammatory comments.
“These are bipartisan discussions,” he said. “It’s not what Democrats want; it’s not what Republicans want. These are compromises that are being reached and when we get close, the president many times just pulls the rug out from under us.”
Cardin blamed Trump for establishing the deadline for DACA in the first place, but he said Congress can work it out if Trump does not stand in the way with his “narrow agenda.”
“The president created the problem,” he said. “Now he’s trying to block that from happening, dealing with his border wall. Look, we all are in favor of border security. The wall makes little sense, makes no sense. It’s counterproductive.”
Realistically, lawmakers say a grand bargain on immigration is not likely to be reached in the next 48 hours, so the DACA issue will need to resolved separately from government funding.
When Democrats agreed to pass a continuing resolution after the brief shutdown last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he intended to deal with immigration by Feb. 8.
Kaine, who has been engaged in bipartisan negotiations on the budget and immigration as part of the “Common Sense Caucus,” expressed optimism that they will reach a consensus on something that can pass in the Senate next week. Getting such legislation through the House could pose a bigger challenge, but he expects a DACA fix and improved border security will be included.
“The second thing we’re working on is trying to find a deal that would involve permanent protection for Dreamers but also significant investment in border security,” he said. “That’s the classic kind of a compromise that we ought to be able to do in Congress.”
While he would prefer that the president be encouraging that effort rather than “sitting on the sidelines rooting for failure,” Kaine said Trump’s pessimism will not stand in the Senate’s way.
“That’s not going to slow us down,” Kaine said. “We know what we need to do and we’re going to do it and we’re going to put a bill on his desk and we expect that he’s going to sign it.”