WASHINGTON ― After a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders turned into a Washington spectacle Tuesday, Republicans on Capitol Hill were suddenly trying to figure out how they could turn Trump’s promises to shut down the government over border wall funding into something other than a suicide mission.
For months now, Republican leaders have privately thought Trump would give up on the wall. They thought he’d hem and haw, as he has in the past, and then reluctantly sign the omnibus spending bill that’s been working its way through Congress all year.
Republicans recognize that Democrats have hardly any incentive to give Trump wall funding, and the Democrats have most of the leverage in this fight. If Trump insists on a shutdown over the wall, Democrats can wait him out, pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the affected agencies when they take back the House in January, and then dare the GOP-controlled Senate and Trump to object.
But with Trump indicating Tuesday that he welcomes a shutdown ― and would even be happy to take the credit or blame for one ― Republicans are now reevaluating.
During a meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dared Trump to put up an omnibus spending bill with the $5 billion he wants for a wall on the House floor and see if it could pass. Trump thinks it could. Pelosi is confident it wouldn’t, figuring that enough conservatives would balk at the spending increases that GOP leaders would need Democratic votes ― traditionally a good bet with these end-of-year spending bills, which typically draw the opposition of about 60 Republicans.
But GOP leaders are now wondering if there’s something to Trump’s plan. Could House Republicans pass an overarching spending bill ― with wall funding ― with only Republican votes?
“I think we could do it,” a senior GOP aide told HuffPost on Tuesday. “It would be tight but doable.”
The senior aide warned that it would still be “a suicide mission, though, because we either shut down the government or cave and pass a CR into January.”
“Or we pass an omnibus with nothing much for the wall,” the aide added.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told HuffPost on Tuesday that he thought Republicans could pass the spending package if it contained money for a border wall. “Moderates would be more of an issue on wall funding than the HFC,” Meadows predicted.
Another Freedom Caucus conservative, Raul Labrador of Idaho, who has voted against a number of spending agreements in the past, said he thought conservatives could get onboard with a spending bill if it had wall funding and closed “asylum loopholes.”
“That’s the position the Freedom Caucus took Monday night, at least,” he said.
Republicans seem to believe they could pass the spending bill on their own through a combination of Trump pressure and team spirit. It could be one final diss of Pelosi if the House GOP could come together and prove her wrong, particularly after she seemed to get the better of Trump repeatedly Tuesday.
During the White House meeting ― in front of the press ― Trump said Pelosi wasn’t in a position where she could speak freely about negotiations. Pelosi shot back that Trump shouldn’t “characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting.”
And when Pelosi returned to Capitol Hill, she further skewered the president in a meeting with Democrats.
Pelosi said the wall was “like a manhood thing” for the president. “As if manhood could ever be associated with him,” she said, according to an aide in the room.
The comments have already been widely reported, and Pelosi almost seems to be goading Trump into a doomed shutdown that he’s already taken the blame for. Schumer particularly got Trump to clarify that, if there was a shutdown, it would be Trump’s doing ― a political gift for Democrats.
But there’s still a good chance Republicans and Democrats come to some small agreement and Congress and the president avoid a shutdown entirely.
While it’s an interesting thought-experiment whether Republicans could pass an omnibus spending bill with only GOP votes, that bill would still need to pass the Senate and its 60-vote threshold. Even if Republicans could peel off a few centrist Democratic votes, they’re unlikely to get enough to muscle it through the Senate and onto the president’s desk. And, at some point, Republicans have to face those facts. They’ve gone down the path before of pretending they can bend Democrats to their will by shutting down the government.
Trying to corral Republicans, many of whom are departing for the holidays and are already missing floor votes, to shut down the government over a wall that Trump had promised Mexico would pay for is a dangerous proposition, one that Republicans would likely lose anyway.
But with Trump suddenly vowing to fight, Republicans aren’t ready to roll over.
According to that same aide in the room, Trump told Pelosi and Schumer that they could go two routes with this meeting: “with a knife or a candy.”
Pelosi responded, “Exactly.”