WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is confident that Democrats will take the blame if the government shuts down this weekend or Congress fails to find a fix to prevent DACA recipients from being deported. But Republicans on Capitol Hill aren't so sure.
Many of them fear that voters will fault the GOP after looking at Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, his past flirtation with letting federal funding expire and the fact that Republicans are in control of the White House, the Senate and the House.
"When there are shutdowns, our side usually takes the hit," said Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, who is retiring from the competitive Allentown, Penn.,-based district he's represented for nearly a dozen years.
"It will be difficult for us to deflect the blame — whether we deserve it or not," he added.
And with Democrats showing unexpected strength in recent elections — the latest a victory Tuesday in a Wisconsin state Senate district that Trump carried easily in 2016 — Republicans know they don't have much margin for error heading into this year's midterm elections.
On Tuesday, Trump laid out his argument that Democrats "don't really want" to extend protections to DACA recipients and that they would be to blame for a shutdown.
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But it was the Justice Department that announced in September that DACA would be canceled in March, creating a six-month window for Congress to write legislation protecting immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or allow them to face deportation. In essence, Trump hung a sword over lawmakers and lit the cord holding it in place.
Negotiations between a bipartisan Senate group and the White House broke down last week in an acrimonious meeting at which Trump reportedly expressed his preference for immigrants from Norway over those who hail from Haiti and African nations. Trump has responded that the media accounts are inaccurate and on Tuesday the president said he wanted immigrants to come to America from everywhere.
The House Homeland Security chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, one of the authors of a bill that would allow DACA recipients to apply for legal status for three years at a time, said Tuesday that the GOP would suffer greatly if no solution is found and the administration begins deporting the roughly 800,000 people who were shielded by President Barack Obama's executive order creating DACA.
"That would not play well for Republicans," McCaul said.
Democrats have tied the issues together by threatening to vote against any spending bill that doesn't include a DACA fix. Republican leaders say that should be dealt with separately, noting that the government's authority to spend expires Friday while DACA remains in effect until early March, allowing for more time to take up that issue.
McCaul and some other Republicans contend that Democrats will watch their strategy backfire politically if they are perceived to have held government funding hostage for DACA recipients.
"If it's shut down over immigration, the Democrats take the brunt of that," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
But if House Republican leaders can't find enough votes for a temporary spending bill, it will be because a combination of Democrats and Republican spending hawks wouldn't support it — complicating efforts to point fingers across the partisan aisle.
The House GOP unveiled legislation Tuesday night that would authorize government funding for another four weeks, while suspending several taxes that fund Obamacare and extending the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. The bill doesn't deal with DACA, and its anti-Obamacare provisions seem likely to both unify rank-and-file Republicans behind it, while further tempting Democrats to vote "no."
Putting government operations at risk is a political gamble for both sides, but it's clear that Republicans think the stakes — possibly their control of Congress — are too high to chance a shutdown or the possible deportation of DACA recipients.
If they were as certain as Trump that Democrats would take the fall, GOP campaign operatives would be working overtime to ensure Congress failed.
But Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the House Republicans' campaign arm, refused to entertain the possibility of inaction.
"I feel confident that we will not shut the government down and that there will be a DACA fix before March," he told NBC News. "I feel confident enough that both are going to happen that I don't even consider the other option" — a shutdown or DACA deportations.