Senate approves stopgap spending bill to avoid shutdown, sends to House

The Senate late Wednesday approved an interim spending bill that would keep several key departments of the federal government funded through February and avert a partial shutdown.

The legislation, which funds nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, was passed by voice vote. It now heads to the House.

It is not clear whether President Trump will sign the bill if the House approves it since the measure does not provide any new funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the White House signaled Tuesday that Trump did not want to drive a government shutdown over the issue, though the president said he'd be "proud" to do so just last week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will remain in session Thursday. "We have to see what the House does," he said. It was unclear how many House members would return to Washington for votes after Republicans lost the majority in the midterm election. Some 70 members missed Wednesday's session, almost as many Democrats as Republicans.

The measure passed by the Senate does provide a total of $1.6 billion for border security and funds other agencies at current levels through Feb. 8, more than a month after the new Congress is sworn in.

In a statement, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Trump's supporters are "ready to fight on behalf of all the freedom-loving Americans to make sure we have secure borders.

Mr. President, we’re going to back you up," Meadows said. "If you veto this bill we’ll be there. But more importantly the American people will be there. They’ll be there to support you. Let’s build the wall and make sure that we do our job in Congress."

McConnell, though, portrayed the short-term spending measure as a "simple" bill that would show that Republicans, who control Congress now, will finish the year by not prolonging a potential crisis.

"Republicans will continue to fill our duty to govern," he said.

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Senate leaders had worked throughout the day Wednesday to forge an agreement to consider the measure, known as a continuing resolution, on the floor as a bipartisan group of lawmakers sought to include language reauthorizing a popular program that supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects. The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired Sept. 30, and they've been trying to extend it, but no agreement was reached and talks will continue.

The bill received unanimous consent shortly after 10 p.m. after a group of Democratic senators passed the time singing Christmas carols in the chamber. A few moments later, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., gaveled a procedural vote closed by suggesting "Rudolph" had voted present.

Congress previously passed legislation to fund much of the government – including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services – through the end of the federal fiscal year. The continuing resolution will take the place of seven appropriations bills for the various agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Trump had "held [the seven appropriations bills] hostage for $5 billion to try to wall off our southern border — a wall he promised American taxpayers that Mexico would pay for."

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"Why should we give a blank check to a president who has shown, time and time again, that he is more interested in vilifying immigrants than he is in solving our immigration problems?" Leahy asked rhetorically. " ... The fact is the president’s wall does not have the votes to get through the House or Senate, and he is in no position to practice horse-trading of one untenable, unpopular, wasteful policy for another."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is on track to become speaker when Democrats take control Jan. 3, signaled support for ensuring funding.

Should the legislation become law, the border money fight would drag into the next Congress, which could prove even more difficult for Trump.

Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.