If the government shuts down Oct. 1 over President Trump’s demand for a border wall, you can bet the die was cast over the past several days.
It may boil down to this: Would congressional Republicans rather block those in the DACA population from a path to citizenship or provide Trump with $25 billion in direct funding for his border wall?
It appears House Republicans are partial to the former over the latter. Otherwise, the president would have closed the deal with House Republicans during his visit to Capitol Hill. Then the House would have voted to pass legislation to fund the border wall.
Instead, House Republican leaders nixed the measure and will try again in some form this week.
House Republicans engineered a two-bill two-step for debate and votes last Thursday. One was a “conservative” measure, crafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. That package authorized construction of the wall, but didn’t provide a dime for the plan. It offered no path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Meantime, the House Republican leadership toiled for days to forge a “compromise” bill embraced by conservatives as well as moderates. That legislation featured a route to citizenship for many in the DACA population. It also coughed up $25 billion in cold cash for the president’s wall.
Neither bill stood a very good chance of passing.
The House was slated to vote on the conservative bill first. Most insiders pegged the legislation to score 170 yeas at the most -- 215 ayes are now the magic number for passage in the House with 428 sitting members.
The House defeated the conservative bill 231-193. But the fact that the conservative bill scored well north of the 170 yea-vote threshold handicapped by many spoke volumes. One-hundred and ninety-three yeas isn’t that far from 215. Granted, some Republicans voted aye simply because they knew the bill would fail. But the House Republican leadership had just announced it was postponing a vote on the compromise bill until Friday. It didn’t have the votes to pass.
There was concern that Republicans could embarrass their own leadership by putting up more yeas (193) for the conservative bill than for the compromise legislation fashioned by the brass. That’s remarkable when one considers the lengths GOP leaders went to last week. They brought the president to Capitol Hill. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., invited Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to the Capitol. Republicans held a long conclave Thursday night in anticipation of a Friday vote. Then they scrapped the bill.
Considering the support for the conservative legislation, perhaps GOP leaders placed the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble.
There’s a coalition of Republicans who won’t vote for any immigration bill because they fear the legislation could constitute “amnesty.” The GOP can only lose 20 votes of their own and still approve legislation.
“There's all of 10. There's probably 20. And if there's 25 or 26 then the bill would go down,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the most hardline lawmakers in the House on immigration.
That’s where blocking the citizenship route for DACA recipients upstages construction of the wall. And the president complicated all of this for the second time in as many Fridays with a tweet declaring the GOP was “wasting time” and should wait until the “Red Wave” arrives in the midterm elections before addressing immigration policy again.
But what about the wall?
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., huddled with the president last Monday. Capito chairs the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. That’s the panel responsible for wall money and the funding Department of Homeland Security.
Capito returned to Capitol Hill saying her panel would approve “a down payment” for the wall.
The phrase “down payment” is code. It’s a cipher, signaling that Senate appropriators wouldn’t cough up the entire $25 billion Trump demands for construction. But it sounds good. And, it in fact means senators are placing a “down payment” on the wall.
Democrats and Republicans generally agree to a baseline of $1.6 billion to construct about 60 miles of bollard fencing in the Rio Grande Valley. Lawmakers will bar the construction of any barrier in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Is it it a wall?
Remember, Trump has many supporters who won’t back anything short of a stonemason standing alongside the border with a trowel. But $1.6 billion goes toward some sort of border protection.
The bottom line is this: Senate spending bills need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The Senate is currently operating with only 50 Republicans due to the prolonged absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Therefore, the appropriations bills must be bipartisan. When he became Appropriations Committee chairman this year, Shelby declared he wanted to advance spending bills with both parties on board. So, this is the compromise.
On Tuesday, Capito’s panel prepped a $55.15 billion bill to fund DHS for fiscal 2019 which starts Oct. 1. Appropriations bills must adhere to certain spending ceilings mandated by “sequestration” ceilings Congress approved years ago. Had the panel fully funded the wall, it would devote $25 billion of the $55.15 billion to the wall. That would only leave $30 billion for all other DHS responsibilities.
And so, there’s just a “down payment.” That could secure 60 yeas. But it’s unclear if that bill will ever hit the floor. Congress may again be forced to bundle many (but not all) of the spending bills together into another corpulent package, funding the government. And then we’ll see if the president can tolerate signing it before a government shutdown deadline of Oct. 1. Back in March, Trump balked at signing the gigantic $1.3 trillion omnibus package before relenting. We’ll see if he signs what Congress sends him this time.
Trump didn’t get his wall the past week. And he’s unlikely to get it later this year, either.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.