Congress rushes to avoid shutdown as Trump says he'll look for 'landmines' in spending plan

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump remains uncommitted to signing a congressional border security agreement ahead of a Friday midnight deadline to keep the government running.
  • Legislators are still trying to finalize legislative text, and have reportedly run into several roadblocks.
Congress scrambles to avoid another shutdown
Congress scrambles to avoid another shutdown

Another week in Washington comes with another chaotic scramble to prevent a government shutdown.

With a little more than two days to spare before funding lapses for the second time since December, confusion reigned Wednesday. Congress hurried to hash out text for spending legislation, as a few remaining snags held up the release of a final plan.

News outlets say President Donald Trump is expected to sign what lawmakers pass — even as Trump and his administration stress that he wants to see legislation before backing it. On Wednesday, the president said "we'll be looking for landmines" in the form of unwanted proposals once the plan is finished.

"I don't want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing. ... We're going to look at the legislation when it comes, and I'll make a determination then," Trump told reporters during a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque.

A confusing rush to keep the government running looks likely in the coming days. About a quarter of the government shuts down if lawmakers fail to beat a midnight Friday deadline. At stake are the paychecks of about 800,000 government workers already battered from the last funding lapse, along with crucial government services such as food inspections and air traffic control.

While Trump is likely to sign the spending measure, which puts about $1.4 billion toward physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico barrier, NBC News and other outlets reported, the president has changed his mind in the past. He did so before the start of a record 35-day shutdown during December and January.

As part of this week's tentative deal, lawmakers allocated only a fraction of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for his proposed border barriers.

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on February 12, 2019.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not commit to the president signing the legislation.

"Look, we'll see what the final package looks like, but like you said and like the president himself said yesterday, he's not happy about it, but he's going get the job done no matter what. He's got alternative options [to build the wall] and he's going keep those on the table," she told Fox News.

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed optimism on Wednesday about avoiding a shutdown. Entering a Democratic caucus meeting, the California Democrat said, "I think we're in a pretty good place."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., expects a House vote on the spending deal as early as Thursday, he told reporters Wednesday. He believes an "overwhelming majority" of House Democrats will back the legislation, despite opposition from some members. Some Democrats have pushed for cuts in the cap on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds for interior enforcement — which were not included in the agreement.

Trump showed signs of accepting the deal on Tuesday night after Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., briefed him on the proposal. The president downplayed the lack of funding he sought for his proposed border wall. He claimed he would allocate money from other parts of the government for the project.

"Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!" Trump tweeted.

Trump wall money tweet

Trump's desire to wait until Congress releases a bill poses its own problems. Appropriators drawing up final legislative text ran into several issues on Tuesday night, Politico reported Wednesday. Among the sticking points is the language allocating $1.375 billion for barriers, a potential provision to guarantee back pay to federal contractors affected by the last shutdown and the extension of the Violence Against Women Act.

The news outlet wrote that "these problems might very well be solved." Shelby's office stressed that negotiators are hashing out final details, which is typical for sprawling legislation.

A Democratic aide said the issues outlined by Politico were not resolved as of Wednesday morning. However, the person does not believe the roadblocks pose any serious risk to the legislation getting through Congress. Trump opposes including a provision to give back pay to federal contractors, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters, according to The Washington Post. 

The spending legislation would cover nine federal departments, so it leaves room for many disagreements — and potential provisions for Trump to dislike.

With wounds from the last closure still fresh, congressional leaders have pushed Trump to keep the government open. Top Republicans and Democrats have backed the still developing deal.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushed lawmakers to pass the agreement, saying, "It's time to get this done." If it reflects the deal announced by appropriators Monday, "it won't be a perfect deal, but it will be a good deal." The comments mark a notable shift in tone from McConnell, who in December said he would not pass any spending bill without knowing the president would sign it.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have supported the agreement, as well.

Before the last shutdown, opposition from Trump's conservative allies in Congress and the media in part led him to threaten to veto any legislation that did not include $5.7 billion for the border wall. While some conservatives have criticized this week's deal — Trump confidant and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it a "garbage compromise" — appetite for a shutdown on Capitol Hill has all but disappeared.

Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., expects the president to keep the government running this time.

"To veto it would cause a shutdown, and I don't see him doing that," he told CNBC on Tuesday.

Ylan Mui Meadows tweet

— CNBC's Ylan Mui, Karen Sloan and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.

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