Senate leaders announce stopgap funding deal to avert shutdown

"One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!" President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Image:Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters about the possibility of a partial government shutdown at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters about the possibility of a partial government shutdown at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2018. Congress and President Donald Trump continue to bicker over his demand that lawmakers fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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By Alex Moe, Frank Thorp V and Allan Smith

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday introduced a short-term bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, a deal that would avert a partial government shutdown over the Christmas holiday.

Before the legislation was filed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke about the proposal on the Senate floor.

"Later this morning, we’ll introduce a continuing resolution that will ensure continuous funding for the federal government. The measure will provide the resources necessary to continue normal operations through February 8," McConnell said.

That continuing resolution (CR) will not include $5 billion in funding for the border wall that President Donald Trump said was a must in order to have his approval to fund key parts of the federal government before they run out of operating authority on Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats would support the stopgap measure.

“Yesterday, we made some progress. Thankfully, President Trump appears to have backed down from" demanding $5 billion for a border wall," he said.

"Insistence on $5 billion for a wall has been the biggest obstacle for keeping the government open past Friday," he added.

The measure would extend current levels of funding for about a quarter of the government, which includes the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department, for example. Congress passed 2019-level funding for the rest of the government several months ago.

Both House and Senate Democrats had indicated Tuesday night that they were supportive of a short-term measure through early February, two Democratic sources told NBC News Tuesday night.

Several members of the House Freedom Caucus, however, are planning to urge the president to stand firm on his border wall promise, a spokesperson for the caucus told NBC News. Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are among those who plan to speak on the House floor Wednesday evening.

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Punting the funding debate to early February could complicate and delay some items on both the House Democratic agenda and the one pushed by Senate Republicans, especially if it triggers another potential shutdown fight.

Originally, Democrats offered two options to Trump and Republicans: A bill with funding for all remaining agencies except the Department of Homeland Security through next September, or a CR for the rest of government that would expire at the end of September.

The White House in recent days has softened its stance and signaled that Trump will not shut down the government over border wall funding, but that doesn't mean he's backing down, both he and officials said.

"We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Tuesday. "We don't want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border from illegal immigration."

One of the floated options would be to reprogram already appropriated funding, but that would require approval from certain committee leaders in Congress. Schumer said Wednesday that Democrats would not allow the reprogramming of funds to build a border wall.

"The House and Senate will not approve a wall from reprogrammed funds or anything else. It won't happen," Schumer said.

Schumer also defended Democrats against the notion that's been promoted by Trump and other Republicans that Democrats don't care about border security.

"Democrats have been perfectly clear — we want smart, effective border security, but that’s not a wall," Schumer said.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Wednesday that should Trump approve a short-term government funding package, it "doesn't mean the president is backing down from an essential promise."

And on Twitter Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted: "One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!"

In his remarks Wednesday, McConnell blamed Democrats for the necessity of a stopgap bill.

"There’s no big difference of principle, Mr. President," McConnell said. "There’s just been a shift in the political winds on the far left. This is knee-jerk, partisan opposition to the administration’s reasonable and flexible requests. This is making political obstruction a higher goal than the integrity of our nation’s borders."

Trump was the only major player in the government funding debate who seemed willing to shut down the government over $5 billion in funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S. southern border. While he originally insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall, he now claims Mexico will pay for it through his revamped trade agreement with the nation. The White House has struggled to explain how exactly that would happen.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have now signaled that they think chances of a shutdown are very low, though they expressed frustration with yet another short-term solution.

"I don't know yet from the White House what their plan is on a continuing resolution," Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told MSNBC Wednesday morning. "Any shutdown that occurs obviously would be very much smaller than what has been done in the past."

He added that having to "punt" on a larger funding bill until early next year is "exceptionally frustrating."

"We continue to punt, this is not to anybody's surprise," Meadows told reporters earlier this week. "I fail to see where the tactic or the logic is in just punting it down the field."

White House officials told NBC News that Congress needs to pass something to show the administration before they indicate whether the president will support it. Trump will make a decision after seeing the plan, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said.

It's a strikingly different tone than the one Trump struck during a televised negotiation with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer last week. Trump said then that he would be "proud to shut down the government" if he did not receive the wall funding he wanted.

Rebecca Shabad contributed.