McConnell Says Senate to Vote on Bill to Avert Shutdown, But Likely to Fall Short

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the Senate would vote at 10 p.m. Friday on the one-month spending bill passed by the House.

But the bill was expected to come up short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate.

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With no fall-back plan, lawmakers and aides said they were expecting the government to shut down at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The news came at the end of day in which President Donald Trump and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer held a 90-minute talk at the White House that they said yielded progress but failed to eliminate disagreements.

The president referred to the meeting and called for a four-week funding extension in a tweet around 5 p.m. Friday: "Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with @SenSchumer - working on solutions for Security and our great Military together with @SenateMajLdr McConnell and @SpeakerRyan. Making progress - four week extension would be best!"

Mr. Schumer said discussions would continue as he returned to the Capitol in an effort to resolve an impasse over government spending and immigration that threatens to shut the government down for the first time since 2013.

"We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements, " Mr. Schumer said as he returned to the Capitol after the 90-minute meeting, noting that the discussions would continue.

A White House official said the meeting had been productive in clarifying what each side wanted, but said no deal had been reached. Messrs. Trump and Schumer and their chiefs of staff were the only people in Friday's meeting, according to a person familiar with the talk.

One senator briefed on the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer said that it didn't go well, putting the ball back in the court of Congress to find a path forward. Another person familiar with the meeting said it wasn't contentious, but that it made clear that neither side would budge.

Not long after the meeting, Mr. Trump's campaign committee Friday blasted out a message to his supporters in which the president said: "I've warned Chuck Schumer not to shut down the government over ILLEGAL immigrants." He urged them to sign their name to a prewritten letter that the president said he would deliver to senators, particularly those Democrats elected from states that he won in 2016.

Mr. Schumer met with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) after his White House meeting. Asked as he left that meeting whether the government would shut down, Mr. Durbin said, "it's too early to tell."

"They discussed a lot of different issues and there were some positive aspects," Mr. Durbin said of the White House meeting.

Senate Democrats were prepared Friday to reject a short-term spending bill just hours before the government's funding expires at midnight. They were scheduled to meet at 8:30 p.m., a little more than three hours before the government is slated to shut down.

The House on Thursday evening passed, largely along party lines, a one-month spending bill that would keep the government funded through Feb. 16. But the bill was expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate Friday, given opposition from most Senate Democrats and some Republicans.

Absent a last-minute deal, much of the government will shut down at midnight on Saturday, the one-year anniversary of Mr. Trump's inauguration. Leaders in both parties stared down that prospect defiantly Friday, with no one willing to take the first step toward preventing a shutdown without concessions from across the aisle.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R. Texas) said he spoke with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who told him there had been "no agreements with Sen. Schumer."

Mr. Trump told Mr. Schumer to return to the Capitol and "work it out" with Mr. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan spoke by phone late Friday afternoon, a White House official said.

A shutdown this weekend would be the first since 2013 and the first ever major shutdown of a government controlled by one party. It would also mark the culmination of a struggle dating back to September, when President Trump ended a program shielding the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents, from deportation. He gave Congress until March 5 to hash out a replacement.

Both parties and the president have been seeking to direct blame across the aisle if the government begins to close down Saturday morning.

"Their ability to govern is so tremendously in question right now," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.).

Democrats believe the public will pin the blame on Republicans, given their full control of a government that has been funded through a series of stopgap spending bills for months.

"Their ability to govern is so tremendously in question right now," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.)

But Mr. Trump noted that Democratic votes will be needed to clear the spending bill in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 51 seats.

"Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate -- but they want illegal immigration and weak borders," Mr. Trump tweeted Friday morning. "Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!"

The White House said the president's scheduled departure for his Florida resort Friday afternoon had been canceled.

White House officials accused Democratic leaders of seeking a shutdown to win leverage in what they said was an unrelated immigration policy debate. They said Republicans would make no more concessions to win Democratic support, and said immigration negotiations were under way separately.

"OMB is preparing for what we're calling 'the Schumer Shutdown,'" said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, referring to Sen. Schumer. Mr. Mulvaney said he had increased his odds of a government shutdown to "50-50."

In a CNN interview late Friday afternoon, Mr. Mulvaney declined to say whether he thought the White House and Congress would reach a deal by midnight to avert a shutdown. "I think there's a deal in the next 24 hours," he said. "I look at it more in terms of what gets done before offices are supposed to open on Monday."

Republicans criticized Democrats for opposing the stopgap spending bill in their push to reach an agreement over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which covers the young immigrants.

"What has been shoehorned into this discussion is an insistence that we deal with an illegal immigration issue," Sen. McConnell said on the Senate floor on Friday morning. He has emphasized that lawmakers have until March to resolve the immigration debate.

Democrats have indeed been trying to use their leverage in the spending negotiations to secure legal protections for the Dreamers. But the immigration negotiations, rocked last week when Mr. Trump referred to some African countries with a vulgar turn of phrase in a meeting with lawmakers, have yet to produce a deal among both parties and the White House.

Mr. Durbin, who has been one of four lawmakers involved in immigration negotiations with the White House, fired back, blaming the bind on the president and Republicans.

"We don't want to shut down this government. We want to solve the problems facing this government and this nation, and that means working together, something which Sen. McConnell has not engaged in," he said.

If the one-month spending bill fails in the Senate, Senate GOP aides said they expected Mr. McConnell would dig in, forcing lawmakers to vote repeatedly on the measure over the weekend in hopes of punishing Democrats with negative headlines.

Senate Democrats and some Republican senators have said they would support a spending bill that stretched for just a few days to provide for more time for negotiations and avoid shutting the government.

"I can support anything that will get us to the table working, I don't support anything that keeps us away from the table working," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.).

But House GOP leaders declared their work done and votes over for the week, although lawmakers said they might be called back.

"We've done our duty. We've sent the bill over to the Senate. The Senate needs to wrestle with it," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.), the House GOP chief deputy whip. But Mr. McHenry didn't fully rule out a short-term spending bill of just a few days' duration.

"We'll determine that once we see it," he said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), who was expected to attend the global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, won't leave the country in the event of a shutdown, his spokesman said.

--Rebecca Ballhaus and Louise Radnofsky contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com, Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 19, 2018 19:34 ET (00:34 GMT)

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