The federal government faces a partial shutdown in five days and nobody on Capitol Hill — Republican allies of President Donald Trump or Democratic opponents — has any idea what the President will or won’t accept in terms of a deal. Congressional Democrats laid out their government funding proposals last week and haven’t moved from them. Congressional Republicans have been waiting since then for guidance from the White House on next steps — a counter proposal? A short-term punt? Some combination of the two?
Here’s the key piece of this that has Capitol Hill uneasy: whatever the President decides to do, there will likely need to be some legislative posturing and back and forth after before any real deal making begins. Every day the White House waits to send forth a proposal or options is a day less to go through that dance. That’s a problem. As one frustrated senior Republican aide put it Sunday night: “Maybe Monday is the day we finally figure out how this whole process starts. Or maybe not.”
Notice the aide said “starts.” We’re not near the finish yet.
Reading the tea leaves
Several congressional aides on both sides of the aisle took the appearance of White House adviser Stephen Miller on CBS’s “Face the Nation” as a sign that any cave or punt on the wall funding wasn’t in the works, at least not yet.
When asked if the President was willing to shut the government down if he doesn’t get border wall funding, Miller said the following:
“If it comes to it, absolutely. This is a very fundamental issue.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” underscored that Democrats in the House and Senate will not budge:
“Republicans just have to have the guts to tell President Trump he’s off on the deep end here, and all he’s going to get with his temper tantrum is a shutdown. He will not get a wall.”
There are several senior White House officials who believe the smart play here is to punt this fight until after the holidays. Miller, on the other hand, has never hid the fact he wants the fight — and as he noted in the interview, believes it’s such a fundamental issue, particularly to the President’s core supporters, that it’s worth having. Who wins out between the camps in the White House in the days ahead is an interesting sidebar.
No senior Republican lawmakers are urging the President to shut the government down. It’s been the exact opposite, actually — it has been made clear by multiple senior Republican lawmakers that the President is not going to get Democrats to move off their position and it’s worth saving the fight for another day, several GOP sources tell CNN.
Nobody wants to be in Washington, pt. 1,000
The House is out of session until Wednesday night. Their first votes of the week are scheduled just about 50 hours before the government partially shuts down. To be fair, the House really doesn’t have much to do but wait to see what the next steps are on the shutdown solution, so as one senior House GOP aide explained it, “Nobody wants to be here, and we know whatever the end game of this will be is going to be a tough vote. Might as well let them spend this time with their families.”
Lawmakers were informed they needed to be ready to return early to Washington in the event some kind of deal or strategy was hashed out.
What to watch on Monday
To make this perfectly clear: everyone is waiting on the President to say — or do — something. Until that happens, everything is speculation.
Reality on Capitol Hill
Republican negotiators, according to multiple sources, have crafted multiple options for the President to take in the days ahead to prevent a government shutdown, ranging from different lengths of short-term continuing resolutions to more fulsome funding packages with various stages of wall money. The President just needs to choose one, or some combination of them.
Yes, the clock is ticking down, but if lawmakers want to move (and given the holidays, they will want to move), these things can move very, very quickly as soon as the parties agree to something. Just keep that in mind.
What to read
CNN’s Clare Foran’s 30,000-foot lay of the government funding and shutdown land.
Behind the scenes — and note of general caution
On Friday, there were reports that Trump was “mulling” a punt on the wall funding. Sunday, there were reports the President had “rejected” the punt option and was digging in. Take this from several people with direct knowledge: neither of those were true as stated. On Friday, as CNN reported, there were several meetings at the White House related to government funding, including meetings between the President and his legislative affairs director and his budget director.
Republican congressional aides were informed that the President would be presented options to avoid a shutdown in those meetings. Included in those was the option congressional Republicans had begun to coalesce behind: a two-week continuation of funding at the current levels — essentially a punt on the issue until after the New Year — and right after Democrats take control of the House.
In the wake of those meetings, word was passed to the Hill that the Presidnet did not make a decision on next steps on government funding, though he was not inclined to back the short-term position.
So to put a button on this, the President was reported to be considering a punt before he’d been presented with the actual option. Then it was reported he had rejected the option of the punt when he’d in fact not made a clear-cut decision, according to multiple sources. It was relayed to Capitol Hill that the President wasn’t inclined to punt, but that no final decision had been made, the sources said.
Bottom line here is just be careful — until the President says explicitly what he wants, nobody really knows what’s going on