Senate Republicans are searching for a way out of the impending partial government shutdown — but they are waiting for President Donald Trump to weigh in before making a move.
Roughly a quarter of the government is scheduled to shutter on Friday without action, and Democrats and Trump continue to spar over his border wall. With the House out of town until Wednesday, all eyes are on the Senate GOP majority and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who hates shutdowns.
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“We’re talking about how to resolve our dilemma, which is what we all need to do,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “We don’t know [what the president wants]. We’ll hopefully know by 5 o’clock. He might be amenable then. He might be amenable to doing nothing. Let it tick away.”
Shelby met privately with McConnell on Monday afternoon and has been trying to steer the GOP away from a shutdown. One option that’s been discussed has been a two-week continuing resolution to kick the fight until January; another is a massive “omnibus” spending bill with funding for seven federal agencies, including a boost to border security spending, according to sources tracking the spending fight. No final decisions by the White House have been made, according to multiple sources.
A former White House official who spoke with Trump Friday said the president is relishing the fact that Republicans are awaiting his signal and letting him set the terms.
Trump wants to “maximize drama,” per another Republican close to the White House.
Senate Democrats have effective veto power over any deal between Republicans and the president under the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’s heard nothing from the White House since offering flat spending levels on border security to Trump last Tuesday.
“We don’t even know what their parameters or plans are. We’ve asked them, we’ve sent them two things, they haven’t answered us. They’ve sent us nothing,” Schumer said on Monday. “They don’t seem to know where the president is at.”
That likely leaves it to McConnell, who talks to Trump on a near-daily basis.
Senate Republicans would prefer not to pass a stopgap bill but acknowledged on Monday it was possible. That would likely result in House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) passing a long-term spending bill in January and denying Trump the $5 billion in wall funding he’s demanding.
“Failing everything else, I admit that’s a possibility. But that’s not the first, second or third choice,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) of a short-term bill. He added that the Senate could start passing spending legislation before the House, though it would require more procedural hoops.
Trump surprised Republicans last week when he vowed to “own” any government shutdown if Democrats don’t relent in the border wall fight.
Over the weekend, Trump heard from multiple GOP senators who privately urged him to consider another two-week extension, according to a White House official.
Congress has already approved two stopgap spending bills since September. But Trump is reluctant to punt any funding decisions beyond this week because he prefers to boost his leverage just ahead of the Christmas holiday, the official said.
Shelby and McConnell, however, are seeking to avoid a dramatic year-end shutdown after one of their most productive years for appropriations in more than a decade.
Three-quarters of federal spending went out the door on time this year, including funding for the Pentagon. A potential funding lapse would affect only about a dozen agencies out of hundreds — which some conservatives say gives Trump extra incentive to force a shutdown in the final days of a GOP-dominated Congress.
Schumer said last week that Democrats would agree to no more than $1.3 billion for border security, the same budget already approved for this year.
House GOP leaders insist they stand behind Trump’s $5 billion demand, though they have not put a bill on the floor with that figure this year.
Gabby Orr and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.