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US Senate passes stopgap spending bill that would avert shutdown

Moving to head off a looming government shutdown, the US Senate passed a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday night that would keep the government funded through Feb 8 — and would punt the impasse over a southern border wall to the new year and a divided Congress.

[WASHINGTON] Moving to head off a looming government shutdown, the US Senate passed a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday night that would keep the government funded through Feb 8 — and would punt the impasse over a southern border wall to the new year and a divided Congress.

The bill was expected to pass the House on Thursday and be sent to President Donald Trump before the midnight Friday deadline, when funding would lapse for nine federal departments.

The measure poses an uncomfortable political problem for Mr Trump among his far-right supporters, even though it remained unclear if the president, who has been a volatile factor throughout the spending debate, would sign such a measure without the US$5 billion he has demanded for a border wall.

Even without explicit indication from the White House about how the president would handle a bill that does not include funding for his beloved wall, conservatives were already condemning the president's seeming capitulation on his signature campaign promise.

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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said Mr Trump was doing himself "major" political damage by relenting in the wall fight.

"They're very concerned that he's not fulfilling his campaign promise," Mr Meadows said of voters, describing the hundreds of phone calls his office received on Wednesday, protesting the president's apparent retreat. "They believe it's a promise that the president said he would keep."

There was considerable outcry from conservatives over a bill without wall funding: Political commentator Ann Coulter denounced a "gutless president," Fox News host Laura Ingraham lamented that the wall would now be "an open door with no frame," and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, warned that the Republicans needed to keep their promise to build the wall.

Other Republican lawmakers acknowledged that without wall funding included in the stopgap spending bill, they had lost their last foreseeable vehicle to secure funding for Mr Trump's signature campaign promise, and that they would hand Nancy Pelosi a triumph before the speaker's election in January.

"I never believed we had a chance to go forward," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. "I was never as sanguine as some about the possibility that Mrs Pelosi would risk her speakership to fund President Trump's wall."

"It's been clear to me," he added, "that at least on this issue, Mrs Pelosi has been running the show."

Republican lawmakers have struggled to find a compromise between Mr Trump's demands and Democratic opposition to spending money on a concrete wall at the border, a final dose of dysfunction in the waning moments of a Republican majority in Washington.

"I'm sorry that my Democratic colleagues couldn't put the partisanship aside and show the same good-faith flexibility that the president has shown in order to provide the resources our nation needs to secure the integrity of our borders as well as the safety of American families," Mr McConnell said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor.

Democrats, two weeks away from taking the House majority, have refused to budge from the offers they had laid out for the president, which included up to $1.6 billion for border security, but nothing for the border wall.

But by declaring he would "own a shutdown" in a contentious televised Oval Office meeting last week, Mr Trump had deprived Republican lawmakers of their ability to pin responsibility for a shutdown on the Democrats. But in the past two days, White House officials have signaled a softening of that position, and Mr Trump appeared to hedge his position in a series of tweets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I don't believe the leader would bring it up if he hadn't had some assurance that the president would sign," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "But you never know."

The bill would not only maintain funding for the departments and agencies covered by seven spending bills that have not passed, but it would also extend a number of programs set to expire, including the Violence Against Women Act, the National Flood Insurance Program and critical Medicaid provisions.

Avoiding a partial government shutdown was a welcome prospect for lawmakers, particularly given the holiday timing and the number of lawmakers who await retirement at the end of the session or have quietly left after their November defeats. More than 70 members from both parties were missing from votes in the House on Wednesday night.

And even though a path to funding had been made clear for the first time in days and did not include billions of dollars in wall funding, Democrats were also dissatisfied with the likely outcome and the prospect of having to confront the funding issue again only two months into their majority.

In a statement, Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, condemned the Republican majority for having "chosen to kick the can down the road for a third time." She vowed to pass spending legislation that does not fund the border wall.

And the lawmakers and aides who had feverishly negotiated the details of the remaining funding bills voiced disappointment that their work would be shelved for now.

"We ended up with the best of all worlds — a good compromise," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.

One senator — Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a self-described silver-lining guy — said that delaying a resolution until February could pave the way for a more thorough approach to border security and an immigration overhaul.

"Why don't we get to a rational discussion about border security, immigration reform, path to citizenship for the DACA population and solve that problem?" he said. "Actually, getting the US$5 billion or the full funding maybe makes that discussion more likely to take place in the next Congress."