/House Democrats sidestep border wall fight until November

House Democrats sidestep border wall fight until November

Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. | Tom Brenner/Getty Images

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They’re averting a shutdown now but are setting up a fight later this fall.

House Democrats have largely agreed to punt an ugly border wall fight with Donald Trump until November, likely averting a shutdown this month — as long as the president backs the plan.

The House is expected to pass a stopgap funding bill this week that maintains the status quo for Trump’s border policies, marking a temporary concession by progressives still fuming at recent hard-line moves on immigration, according to multiple lawmakers and senior aides.

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Senate Republicans, too, say they’re willing to back the short-term bill — with Trump’s greenlight. That would set up a final showdown around Thanksgiving, which will be Trump’s last chance to deliver on his wall promise before peak campaign season.

The bipartisan funding measure is essentially a truce between Congress and the White House: no painful shutdown this month and no new crackdown on immigration agencies. The House expects to vote Thursday, followed by a Senate vote next week, all in time to fund the government by the Sept. 30 deadline.

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s low-drama strategy has run into some resistance from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who have privately urged leadership to take a harder line against Trump after his summer of extreme immigration tactics that include diverting military funds to Trump’s border wall.

“I don’t think we should let him get away with this,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) said of Trump’s efforts to fund border policies with Pentagon money. “I think we should take it to the mat. I don’t think we should let go of it.”

Pelosi has been firm in telling her caucus that Democrats needed to back a “clean” funding measure, and so far, many progressives and Latino Democrats have agreed to hold their fire for later this fall, unwilling to block the bill and take blame for a shutdown.

Top Republicans and Democrats in each chamber are still negotiating the details of the final text, which is expected to be unveiled Monday night or Tuesday morning. Among the sticking points: funding for Puerto Rico’s cash-strapped Medicaid program, a dispute over Trump’s trade aid program and a long-delayed package of health extenders, according to people familiar with the talks.

The border wall fight, however, is not expected to dominate funding talks before next week’s deadline and will instead be the dominant issue in October and November, lawmakers and aides said.

Democrats have continued to rail against Trump’s recent move to divert billions of dollars from hundreds of military training programs, bases and schools to his border projects, eager to revive the fight later in the coming weeks.

“All the Democrats are asking for us to protect the troops from having their resources robbed for a border wall, resources that Congress said should go to the military,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor Monday.

Multiple members of the Progressive Caucus have also pressed Pelosi and other top Democrats to include at least some new restrictions in the stopgap bill in light of the military funding transfers to the wall.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), for example, raised his concerns to Pelosi in a caucus meeting last Tuesday, the Democrats’ first gathering back from the summer recess.

Pelosi was quick to say that the House needed to support a clean funding measure to keep the government open, a point reiterated by House Appropriations chief Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), according to multiple people in the room.

Doggett later said he was “troubled” that there are no additional restrictions on Trump’s ability to transfer money from accounts like military construction.

“A short-term CR may be understandable, but longer-term appropriations that do not contain enforceable limitations on his power grab will only encourage his continued wrongdoing,” Doggett wrote in a statement, when reached for comment about his remarks at the meeting.

One day later, CPC co-chairs Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) made a similar argument for some new limits during a closed-door meeting with Pelosi and other top Democrats. Pelosi, again, was firm in supporting a clean bill, multiple people in the room said.

Jayapal’s proposal is for a short-term funding bill that fully funds the Department of Homeland Security, except for the projects that Trump himself defunded in an attempt to pay for his wall. The progressive caucus discussed her idea at their weekly meeting last Tuesday, though it has not taken a position on it.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive who is still undecided on the “clean” stopgap bill, said he supported Jayapal’s plan.

“I thought Pramila Jayapal had a great idea— let’s do a continuing resolution except funding those parts that Trump has misappropriated for other purposes,” Khanna said.

Other tricky immigration issues are at play, too: Hispanic Caucus members have been pressing Democratic leaders to create more guardrails for the Customs and Border Protection officials to follow, as well as stricter caps for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their authority to transfer migrants from one detention center to another.

Democratic leaders do plan on fighting Trump’s border policies in funding talks later this fall, taking a hard line against issues like wall funding, detention beds and other enforcement provisions.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla), who oversees the military construction funding that was diverted, said the Democrats’ official position this fall will be “firm” — no backfilling any of the cancelled military projects. Republicans have generally supported Trump’s military grab, saying the funding will be replenished.

But for now, Democrats will step away from the bigger fight in order to keep the government open.

“It’s going to be a clean CR. We’ve got to keep the government open,” Wasserman Schultz said. And on the wall: “This discussion will take place during our normal appropriations process, whenever the Senate gets around to actually doing it.”

The biggest question for congressional leaders of both parties, however, is now whether Trump will sign the funding measure.

Asked whether Trump would support the bill, Senate Appropriations vice chair Sen. Patrick Leahy replied: “I don’t even ask, I just do what we think is right and send it. His tweets change by the minute.”

Heather Caygle and Marianne Levine contributed to this report.

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