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story.lead_photo.caption Budget Director Mick Mulvaney arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON -- The House on Thursday night passed a GOP-written stopgap spending bill to keep the government open past tonight, but Senate Democrats appeared ready to block the measure.

Lawmakers voted by a near party-line 230-197 vote to approve the legislation, which would keep agency doors open and hundreds of thousands of federal employees at work through Feb. 16. The measure is designed to give White House and congressional bargainers more time to work through disputes on immigration and the budget that they've tangled over for months.

House passage was assured after the House Freedom Caucus reached an accord with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The leader of the far-right group, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Ryan promised future votes on extra defense spending and on a conservative, restrictive immigration bill. Meadows also spoke to President Donald Trump.

Just 11 Republicans, mostly conservatives and a pair of moderate Hispanic lawmakers, opposed the measure. Six Democrats, a mix of Hispanic and moderate legislators, backed the bill. Arkansas' four lawmakers, all Republicans, voted for the measure.

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But most Senate Democrats and some Republicans were expected to vote against it in that chamber, likely today. Democrats were hoping to spur slow-moving immigration talks, while a handful of Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were pressing for swifter action on immigration and a long-sought boost in Pentagon spending.

The GOP controls the Senate 51-49 and will need a substantial number of Democratic votes to reach 60 -- the number of votes needed to end Democratic delaying tactics. Some Republicans were all but daring Democrats to scuttle the bill and force a shutdown because of immigration, which they said would hurt Democratic senators seeking re-election in 10 states that Trump carried in 2016.

"If there's a government shutdown -- and let's hope there's not -- it'd be the Democrats shutting it down," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Democrats said voters would fault Republicans because they control Congress and the White House and because Trump shot down a proposed bipartisan deal among a handful of senators that would have resolved the conflict over how to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of young illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. as children.

"You have the leverage. Get this done," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said about Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of a "fixation on illegal immigration," which he said "has them threatening to filibuster spending for the whole government."

But Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader who has tried using opposition to the bill as leverage to prod immigration negotiations, called for a plan to finance government for just a few days and said party leaders should try to quickly reach an agreement.

He said that should be done with or without Trump, who initially expressed support for a bipartisan effort to address the issue only to oppose one proposed by several senators.

"How can you negotiate with the president, who has to sign the legislation, is like a sphinx on this issue, or says one thing one day and one thing the next?" Schumer asked.

The weeks-old standoff on immigration and spending only grew more charged last week after Trump referred to African nations as "s***hole countries" in the meeting in which he rejected the bipartisan spending plan. By Thursday, budget negotiations were making little progress even as prominent House Democrats were introducing a resolution to censure the president for his words.

Trump weighed in later Thursday from Pennsylvania, where he was promoting last year's tax overhaul and helping a GOP candidate in a special congressional election.

"I really believe the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts because they're doing so well," he said.


If the stopgap measure stalls in the Senate, the next steps are murky.

Barring a last-minute pact between the two parties on spending and immigration disputes that have raged for months, lawmakers like Schumer said a measure financing agencies for just several days was possible to build pressure on negotiators to craft a deal. Also conceivable is lawmakers working over the weekend with a shutdown underway -- watched by a public that has demonstrated it has abhorred such standoffs in the past.

While the GOP controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, Democrats are using the must-pass bill to try to force other policy concessions. It's not clear who would take most of the political blame for a shutdown, and the stakes are high ahead of November's midterm elections.

Trump's poor popularity in polls and a string of Democratic special election victories have fueled Democratic hopes of capturing control of the House and perhaps the Senate in November.

The bill the House passed would fund the government for four weeks, extend the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years and delay implementation of three taxes imposed by the Obama-era Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

But hours before the vote, Trump said a long-term extension of the children's health care program should not be part of a stopgap spending bill pending before the House.

He wrote on Twitter: "CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!"

Republican leaders had spent Wednesday pressuring Democrats to vote for the spending bill, arguing that opposing it would effectively block a six-year extension of the children's health program, attached to the spending bill as a sweetener for lawmakers in both parties. The children's health program serves nearly 9 million low-income children, and some states have come close to exhausting their funds for that program.

Ryan said Wednesday that it would be "unconscionable" for Democrats to oppose funding for the children's health care program with a "no" vote on the short-term spending bill.

Hours after Trump's tweet, the White House tried to walk it back. A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said the president supports the House's stopgap bill.

Pelosi made clear that she was unmoved by the inclusion of Children's Health Insurance Program funding in the stopgap bill.

"This is like giving you a bowl of doggy doo, put a cherry on top and call it a chocolate sundae," she said before the vote.

Congress must act by midnight today or the government will begin immediately locking its doors. Though the impact would initially be spotty -- since most agencies would be closed until Monday -- the story would be certain to dominate weekend news coverage, and each party would be gambling that the public would blame the other party.

In the event of a shutdown, food inspections and other vital services would continue, as would Social Security, other federal benefit programs and most military operations.

The last shutdown occurred in 2013 when Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to eliminate funding of then-President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Republicans had the majority in the House, while Democrats held the Senate.

Information for this article was contributed by Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Jill Colvin, Marcy Gordon, Matthew Daly and Kevin Freking of The Associated Press; by Thomas Kaplan and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times; and by Anna Edgerton, Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson and Sahil Kapur of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 01/19/2018

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