Congressional Leaders To Huddle At White House For Shutdown Talks

President Trump appears during what was supposed to be a meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership on Nov. 28. Democratic leaders Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., skipped the meeting, and empty chairs were displayed to reinforce their absence.
President Trump appears during what was supposed to be a meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership on Nov. 28. Democratic leaders Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., skipped the meeting, and empty chairs were displayed to reinforce their absence.

Congress is moving to head off a partial shut down of the federal government at the end of the day Friday. The House is set to vote on a continuing resolution, or C.R., to extend government funding by two weeks, moving that deadline to the Friday before Christmas, setting up a possible showdown over immigration and defense spending as Congress is trying to leave town.

The four top leaders of Congress — House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — were all invited to the White House last week, but the Democrats backed out after Trump tweeted that a deal on government funding wasn't likely and called them "weak on crime" among other insults.

House conservatives have raised objections to the plan to extend funding until Dec. 22 because they worry the pressure to leave town right before Christmas will give Democrats leverage to get more of their priorities included in a longer-term spending bill at that time. But GOP leaders need those conservatives to support the measure in the House because Democrats are refusing to vote for it.

"I feel good where we are," House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the vote count Thursday morning. "It's kind of just basic governing, is keeping government going while we negotiate the finer details."

Democrats have a rare bit of leverage in this situation. Unlike the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code, Republicans need 60 votes in the Senate to pass government funding. With 52 Republicans in the chamber, that means they need at least 8 votes from Democrats or the independents who caucus with them.

Republicans can pass such a measure in the House with only GOP votes because they require just a simple majority, but with approximately 40 conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus usually opposed to spending bills, House Democrats have been needed to pass such measures in recent years.

"We expect a clean C.R. to pass with Democrat support. That's what we hope will happen," said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders ahead of the Oval Office meeting on Thursday. The call for a "clean C.R." means the White House is looking for at least a short-term funding extension without other policy provisions attached.

Democrats are seeking permanent legal status for so-called DREAMers as part of a long-term government funding deal. Those are the roughly 700,000 immigrants in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump announced an end the Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in March of 2018. DACA keeps those nearly 700,000 immigrants from being deported by immigration authorities.

The hope of many Democrats is to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would establish a path to citizenship for such immigrants. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference on Thursday that it is one of the party's priorities. She said Democrats won't leave at the end of the month without an immigration deal, but she added, "Democrats are not willing to shut government down, no."

Pelosi and Schumer have both said that they are willing make a deal for protections for DREAMers that includes border security funds sought by Republicans, but not funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that the White House continues to call for.

Pelosi added that Democrats will not support the two-week funding extension the House is voting on Thursday because she said it does not fund priorities such as fighting the opioid epidemic, veterans funding, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was not reauthorized by Congress in September.

"This is a waste of time," Pelosi said of the current measure.

Republicans have demands, too. They are seeking an increase in defense spending and relief from funding caps put in place by the Budget Control Act in 2011. Democrats say that would be acceptable if spending on domestic programs is increased with parity. Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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