GOP waits on Trump in border wall fight




Donald Trump and Paul Ryan at the White House

Speaker Paul Ryan will lead the House Republican leadership in their Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump, one of the final meetings between the pair in their current roles, before the lame duck Ryan leaves Washington. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

House Republican leaders are heading to the White House on Tuesday afternoon as GOP leaders try to placate President Donald Trump and avoid a partial government shutdown on Dec. 7.

Senate GOP leaders have discussed with the president the possibility of providing Trump with $5 billion in guaranteed money for the wall but spread over two years, according to two Republicans familiar with internal discussions. Trump has not ruled out the idea, according to a Republican senator, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will go along with that minor concession.

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Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and new GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney — in her first Oval Office meeting since being elected to the Republican leadership — will huddle with President Donald Trump to strategize about how to get through the lame-duck session.

There’s still no clear way out of a bipartisan jam: Republicans promised Trump that they would fight for his wall money after the election. And Democrats say they already have a deal on $1.6 billion in border security, far less than the $5 billion preferred by the president and his allies in Congress.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Trump personally made clear to him before Thanksgiving that anything less than $5 billion would be unacceptable. But Shelby said Trump’s willingness to deal will depend on exactly how Congress would dole out the money — with the goal of an extended lifespan for the project which will cost more than $25 billion.

Republicans said the recent unrest at the California border has raised the stakes for the GOP, said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. But GOP leaders have declined to give an explicit number that they believe they can get Senate Democrats to support, knowing how dependent it is on Trump.

The White House’s top priority now, according to multiple Senate Republicans, is guaranteeing several years worth of wall construction before the GOP loses full control of Congress. Republicans have internally floated perhaps spreading the $5 billion over two years, but the White House realizes once Democrats take the House that deal may fall apart, said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“It’s up to what the president will find acceptable. Ultimately he’s going to have to decide it,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. “We’re better off trying to negotiate that with the president,” the Texas Republican added.

But with fewer than two weeks before the deadline, Democrats are refusing to bend. Senate Appropriations ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said spending committees have been negotiating frequently over the past week, but leaders in both parties have said there have been no breakthroughs.

“The president thinks a government shutdown will be good for the country,” Leahy said. “The only one that can shut down the government is the president and the Republican leadership.”

Yet Republicans will need at least nine Democratic votes in the Senate and perhaps many more in the House for any spending bill. But Congress is sidelined in some ways on delivering a border wall breakthrough until the president makes his next move, heightening the importance of Tuesday’s meeting.

It’s the first such meeting with Trump since House Republicans saw their eight-year majority swept away by a Democratic wave. Ryan is a lame duck, gone in January, while McCarthy, Scalise and Cheney will take over a GOP minority still numb from its historic defeat. Democrats had their best House results since the Watergate scandal, with Republicans losing suburban voters — especially women — by huge margins. That’s not likely to change in 2020 with Trump on the top of the ticket either, making it likely that House Republicans will be in the minority for some time.

And House Republicans will likely have to deal with an angry Trump — angry about the election results, angry about border wall funding, angry about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, angry about signs of weakness in an overall strong U.S. economy, angry about the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, angry about pretty much everything.

“I don’t know what this is going to accomplish,” said a GOP source of Tuesday’s White House meeting. “It may just turn into a venting session.”

With seven appropriations bills still outstanding and funding expiring on Dec. 7, there have been staff-level discussions to try to resolve the dispute, although these discussions have yielded little so far, say Democratic and GOP sources and members of leadership in both parties.

Still, Congress has enough time to strike a deal as the December holidays approach.

“Chaos ensues and everything gets done fast,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

Still, the biggest stumbling block is Trump’s border wall project. Trump and GOP leaders have made no concessions to Democrats, according to sources close to the talks. That’s far more than Democratic leaders seem ready to accept.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is an especially sensitive position. She has a House Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday where she is expected to become her party’s speaker nominee. But the floor vote for speaker isn’t until the first day of the new Congress on Jan. 3, and Pelosi has faced a mini rebellion by some moderate Democrats who want to replace her as party leader.

Pelosi is not likely to make any concessions on the border wall that could hurt her standing with progressives, which makes an already wide gap between her and Trump even wider.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was confident that he could avoid a shutdown in a private GOP leadership meeting on Monday afternoon, but the Kentucky Republican offered his members no new details on how to avoid a shutdown, attendees said Monday night. Everyone is waiting on the president to guide the final stage of negotiations.

During a meeting between staff representing the top four leaders and appropriations chiefs last week, Republicans reiterated the president’s demand for increased wall funding but offered no concessions to win support from their Democratic peers. Democrats are currently crafting their own counteroffer this week, according to Democratic aides.

“Their position is really the same as it’s always been, that they want $5 billion for the border wall. But obviously we’re willing to negotiate,” said one Democratic aide.

Leaders in both parties are simultaneously working on a wish list for emergency disaster aid to help with recovery from the hurricanes and wildfires that have ravaged both coasts this year. Attaching such a proposal to the spending legislation would make it difficult for lawmakers from either party to oppose.

Jennifer Scholtes and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.

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