The Senate passed legislation that would fund the government through Feb. 8 late Wednesday evening, but the short term solution does not solve the larger issues at hand regarding border security and President Donald Trump’s wall with Mexico.
The measure, a key step toward averting a government shutdown, was approved roughly twelve hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this was the path he had decided to take before Friday’s deadline, when funding for portions of the government runs out. As the vote occurred, lawmakers, clearly eager to get home for the holidays, were in a giddy mood. A handful of Senators were singing Christmas carols on the floor; at one point Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who was presiding over the vote, jokingly referred to McConnell as “Rudolph.”
But their relief could possibly be short lived. The bill now has to pass the House before the President can sign it into law. While House Democrats, like their Senate counterparts, are expected to support the agreement to avert a shutdown, Republicans face internal opposition from the Freedom Caucus, a conservative bloc which reiterated Wednesday its support for President Trump if he vetoes the bill because it does not contain adequate funding for border security.
Portions of the government will shut down on Friday at midnight if the President does not sign the legislation to keep it open, a situation that would impact some 800,000 federal workers just ahead of Christmas. The government needs to fund seven remaining appropriations bills. While six are close to completion, according to officials in both parties, Congress has been hung up on the seventh bill, which would fund Trump’s oft-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Trump said as recently as last week that he would “proudly” shut down the government if he did not receive his requested $5 billion for border security, but the Republican-led Congress did not have the votes to deliver that to him. Democrats had bulked at providing anything more than $1.3 billion for that purpose, and Republicans, who have a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, needed at least nine Democrats on board with Trump’s proposals to pass the bill. When Republicans offered a $1.6 billion proposal for border security and another $1 billion in discretionary spending — which Trump could use to build some of the physical wall, according to a GOP leadership aide — on Tuesday, Democrats rejected it outright.
While the stopgap bill would be a victory for the government employees who would not have to work without pay during a shutdown, and for the lawmakers who would not have to spend the Christmas holiday in Washington, it is undoubtedly a setback for the President and his desired border wall. The bill continues funding at current levels through February 8. For border security, that means $1.3 billion, which is the line the Democrats had drawn.
If President Trump signs this legislation, it would not only be a reversal of his hardline stance about shutting down the government over a border wall, it would also be a signal of defeat when he had utmost leverage with negotiations. Come February, when the battle over the wall will inevitably begin again, he will be facing a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, who have made clear they will not pass anything remotely akin to what the President wants in this arena. He will have to admit he cannot get the desired funding for the wall, a key campaign pledge, by the end of the first term.
“This problem doesn’t get easier by moving the deadline a month,” one House Democratic aide told TIME. “At some point, the rubber has to meet the road and the President has to finally and officially give in on the wall.”
Trump has remained silent about what he intends to do, although Republican lawmakers seem confident he will sign the bill.
But he is facing pressure from groups Freedom Caucus, the segment of House Republicans who said they would support Trump if he vetoed the bill, and highlighted the detrimental effect it would have on his core base of voters.
“If you veto this bill, we’ll be there,” Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows told Trump in a statement. “But more importantly, the American people will be there. They’ll be there to support you.”
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