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VOL. 42 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 14, 2018

Struggle in House on bill to avoid looming federal shutdown

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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are struggling to pass legislation that would avoid a partial government shutdown threatened at week's end, with members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus urging President Donald Trump to insist on money for the border wall with Mexico.

But with a partial federal stoppage looming Saturday and lawmakers eager to return home for the holidays, resistance could crumble quickly to a short-term spending bill that keeps the government running through Feb. 8. The Senate passed the bill by a voice vote Wednesday.

The White House has indicated that Trump was open to reviewing whatever Congress could send him, but the president did not immediately weigh in on the short-term spending plan.

Without a deal, more than 800,000 federal workers would face furloughs or be forced to work without pay, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.

Trump appeared to shelve his shutdown threats after promising a fight over the wall, a project central to his presidential campaign. Just last week Trump said he would be "proud" to shut down the government over his demand for $5 billion for the wall. Some of his allies described the move as caving on his pledge and they expressed concern it could hurt Trump's 2020 prospects.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Trump's political base "will just go crazy" if he were to signs a stopgap bill without the wall money. Meadows said it will become more difficult to win the money next year when Democrats control the House. Supporters of the president, he said, "believe it's a promise that he's been telling them that he will keep."

Pressing the case Thursday on Fox News, Meadows said: "A lot of people are very nervous this morning about whether the president will cave or not."

Trump directed his ire at Democrats, tweeting that they were "putting politics over country." He did not directly address whether he would sign the measure.

He also put them on notice about their agenda for the new year, saying he "will not sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure, unless it has perfect Border Security." Trump also tried to defend his efforts on the border, arguing that "people are losing sight of the great job being done on our Southern Border by Border Patrol, ICE and our great Military."

Trump wanted $5 billion. The bill keeps funding at current levels, $1.3 billion, for border security and fencing, but not for the wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate would remain in session Thursday. "We have to see what the House does," he said.

McConnell said the bill would show that Republicans, still in control of the House and Senate, could finish the year by not prolonging a potential crisis.

It was unclear how many House members might return to Washington for votes, given that Republicans lost the majority in the November election. Some 70 members missed Wednesday's session, almost as many Democrats as Republicans.

With many House Republicans souring on the spending package, passage could depend on Democrats. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, who is on track to become speaker when Democrats take control Jan. 3, signaled support for ensuring funding.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats oppose Trump's border demands because the wall is "inefficient" and because Trump, as a candidate, promised that Mexico would pay for it, which Mexico has refused to do.

"We want smart, effective border security," Schumer said. "That's not a wall."

Congress did pass legislation to fund much of the government through the current budget year, until next Oct. 1.

At issue in the current fight is money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.

Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are covered for the year and would continue to operate as usual. The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, would not be affected by any government shutdown because it's an independent agency.

___

Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.

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