WASHINGTON ― Less than 24 hours after House members returned from their August recess, Republicans are already looking ready to accept defeat on funding for a border wall ― and Democrats look just as ready to take that yes for an answer.
With government funding deadlines approaching on Sept. 30, lawmakers are planning to send multiple packages of spending bills to the president for his signature this month. Whatever agencies Congress can’t fund through these so-called “minibuses,” Republicans and Democrats plan to keep running through their old legislative friend, the continuing resolution.
House GOP leaders told members Wednesday morning that the goal was to have “no drama” before the midterm elections ― read: no shutdowns ― and that would almost certainly mean avoiding a fight with Democrats over border wall funding.
President Donald Trump acknowledged Wednesday morning that he doesn’t see “even myself or anybody else closing down the country right now.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he didn’t think he needed to convince Trump not to risk a government shutdown. And Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told HuffPost that, while he’d be willing to fight for a wall now, he thinks Republicans will have a better chance at winning in January.
“Not fighting for the wall becomes a tactical question more than folding,” Meadows said. “You know, when’s the best time to take that fight?”
Meadows and other conservatives may currently think they have a better chance at winning a wall standoff after the elections, but even Meadows admitted that Trump signing more funding bills without wall money would make it harder to “win the next time.”
Regardless, with the president, GOP leaders and the Freedom Caucus mostly on the same page, Congress should be able to pass some appropriations measures that provide a full year of funding and then do a continuing resolution to keep the other agencies running ― potentially kicking the issue into next year, but more likely into the lame-duck session in December.
That doesn’t mean every Republican is going to vote for these minibus bills or a continuing resolution. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) indicated Wednesday that such a strategy was probably an indication that Democrats would win on spending and that conservatives like him would be free to vote no. And any compromise is a fickle one. Trump usually contradicts himself a few times on whether Republicans should shut down the government over wall funding.
But with all this leverage, just how much are Democrats actually winning on these appropriations bills?
Democrats were tight-lipped about spending negotiations on Wednesday, but members of the House Appropriations Committee pushed back against the idea that they wouldn’t get enough in exchange for their votes.
“Who says we’re not playing hardball?” Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) asked HuffPost. “Have you been in any of those meetings?”
When HuffPost asked about Democratic riders in the appropriations bills ― the policy prescriptions that lawmakers slip into spending legislation ― Serrano suggested that a larger role for Democrats was blocking GOP riders.
Another senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), agreed that Democrats weren’t giving in to Republicans.
“We’re going back and forth, but we’re not going to give up on anything that we feel strongly about,” she said. “Democrats are really fighting hard.”
Some Democrats worry they could overplay their hand and demand too much on the spending bills, potentially leading Republicans to withdraw from negotiations and simply put forward a short-term funding extension that would be difficult for Democrats to turn down. Instead, Democrats are banking on the idea that they can win significant concessions on the agencies Congress funds now and have fights on the other parts of government another day ― at which point Republicans would have diminished leverage because a shutdown would then affect a smaller portion of government, which would almost certainly include the Department of Homeland Security.
In that sense, Democrats are fine with the GOP plan of “no drama.” But they also could be losing a moment in which they have tremendous leverage ahead of the midterms.
Still, with Trump dominating the news cycle every day with unhinged tweets ― like the Monday post where he essentially advocated for political corruption ― Democrats may think it best to get out of the president’s way and let voters see just him.
True to form, by the end of Wednesday, Trump was already reversing himself on his desire to prevent a shutdown.
“If it happens, it happens,” Trump said. “If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do anything.”