WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders in Congress are angling for another short-term funding measure to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week and, at the same time, trying to keep a dispute over immigration separate from their attempts to reach agreement on spending priorities.
With government funding set to expire at the end of the day Friday, Republican leaders are weighing a bid to extend it until Feb. 16, a person familiar with the negotiations said. They also are considering attaching legislation that would reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program, the person said.
Democrats say the burden is on President Donald Trump to help break the stalemate after he rejected a bipartisan proposal to shield young illegal immigrants from deportation and ignited anger by reportedly disparaging Haiti and African nations. Democrats want to attach such an immigration measure to the must-pass spending bill, an idea House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reject.
"We don't want to shut down the government, we never want to," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. "We want to keep the government open, but I will repeat, we're not going to be held hostage to do things we think are contrary to the best interest of the American people."
Hoyer declined to say definitively if Democrats would oppose a short-term spending bill offered by Republicans. But he said Democrats did not want to vote in favor of a fourth short-term bill that continues existing agency spending levels, absent an agreement for a broader two-year funding deal and a solution for the young immigrants living in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The GOP strategy seeks to force Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York to decide if this is the moment to force a showdown on immigration that results in a partial government shutdown in an election year. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said Tuesday that he'll formally introduce the bipartisan immigration compromise as soon as today and that McConnell should allow the vote before the Friday spending vote.
"Let's bring this matter to a vote before we reach deadline on Friday," Durbin said.
Both parties have struggled for months to agree on a spending deal for the rest of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and Congress already has had to pass three short-term funding bills. A dispute over how much to allocate to defense and domestic programs has been an obstacle to a broader fiscal agreement that also could provide disaster-relief funds, shore up the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, extend the health program for low-income kids and include an immigration deal pairing protections for the young immigrants with a border-security plan.
Democrats have said they see Friday as the deadline to proceed with an immigration deal and the other policy measures that they see as one package of demands. Republican leaders have insisted that the immigration debate be handled entirely outside the spending package and that more time may be needed to resolve both matters.
In another wrinkle, the administration has appeared to boost its demands for funding for Trump's border wall. The administration recently made public a request for $18 billion over ten years for the wall, which Democrats have rejected.
But on Tuesday, Durbin suggested Trump asked for even more during the Thursday meeting in which he used a vulgarity to describe African nations. Senators on the Judiciary Committee grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the meeting, which Durbin and Nielsen attended.
"Do you remember the president saying he wanted $20 billion now and he would build that wall within one year?" Durbin asked Nielsen.
"I do remember him saying that," Nielsen replied. "I remember him asking is there any way to authorize the full down payment of the wall such that we could have assurances that we could in fact build it."
According to a senior administration official who demanded anonymity to speak freely, Trump wants Congress to fully authorize all of the wall money in exchange for a fix for the deferred-action program. Democrats have remained opposed to Trump's wall.
Trump and other Republicans blamed Democrats for the standoff.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Democrats' insistence on getting a deal on the deferred-action program was holding up negotiations. "That's why we are in the fix we are in."
Trump blasted Democrats in Twitter postings Tuesday.
"The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security," he wrote. In another tweet, he said, "We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!"
Republicans' slim 51-49 Senate majority means they need at least nine Democratic votes to pass a spending bill. The GOP is counting on support from some Democrats, including from among the 10 who are up for election in November in states won by Trump.
Republicans have a wider majority in the House -- they hold 238 seats in the chamber, and 218 are needed to pass a bill. But even there, GOP leaders are working with a thin margin.
House GOP leaders, seeking to lock down support among conservatives for a stopgap funding measure, are looking to sweeten it with a plan to delay the implementation of unpopular taxes on medical devices and generous employer-subsidized health care taxes, according to GOP aides. The taxes, also unpopular with many Democrats, are part of former President Barack Obama's marquee health law.
The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is not yet public, also predicted the measure would include a long-delayed renewal of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Democrats said they're still unlikely to support the measure without an agreement on immigration.
Meanwhile, the clamor over Trump's use of a vulgarity bled into a second week Tuesday and a Republican senator who was present for the original remark said the situation had become a "s̶̶̶̶s̶h̶o̶w̶ s-show."
Trump was said to have uttered "s***hole" during Thursday's conversation to describe countries in Africa during immigration talks with senators in the Oval Office, a version supported by Durbin and some Republicans.
Asked about Trump's comments challenging his honesty, Durbin told reporters Tuesday: "I stand by every word I said about what was said."
But Nielsen testified Tuesday that she "did not hear" Trump use the vulgarity to describe African countries. But she said she didn't "dispute the president was using tough language."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked her specifically if she heard the vulgarity or a "substantially similar word" to describe certain countries. She said "others in the room were also using tough language."
Later Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump had drastically changed his tune on a compromise immigration bill just before the Thursday meeting. Graham said Trump had been badly served by his staff and that the situation had turned into a "s̶̶̶̶s̶h̶o̶w̶ s-show."
Information for this article was contributed by Laura Litvan, Anna Edgerton, Jack Fitzpatrick Steven T. Dennis and Ari Natter of Bloomberg News; by Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Kevin Freking, Marcy Gordon, Jonathan Lemire, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller of The Associated Press; and by Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, Ed O'Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Brian Murphy of The Washington Post.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey grills Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration policy.
A Section on 01/17/2018
*CORRECTION: During a Senate hearing Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described the debate over President Donald Trump’s use of a vulgarity to describe immigrants from African nations and Haiti as an “s-show.” A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Graham as using a vulgar word to describe the controversy.
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