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Confusion Reigns As GOP Scrambles To Avert A Government Shutdown

The president indicated in a morning tweet that he opposed House Republicans’ bill to extend long-term funding for a popular children’s health care program as part of a short-term spending agreement

President Trump joins congressional leaders on Wednesday during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole at the U.S. Capitol. On Thursday, Trump scrambled efforts to negotiate a spending deal with a morning tweet.

Updated at 3:12 p.m. ET

President Trump injected fresh confusion into tense negotiations to avert an impending government shutdown with a morning tweet that indicated he opposed the House stopgap funding bill.

“CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. The House funding bill includes a six-year renewal of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, which GOP leaders included as a potential sweetener to get the votes they need to pass the stop-gap measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan downplayed the tweet to reporters Thursday morning. “I am sure where he stands. He fully supports passing this legislation,” Ryan countered, noting that he spoke to the president after the tweet was posted.

House Republicans are under pressure to approve the stopgap measure without much help from Democrats. “We will be opposing this continuing resolution,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday.

Trump’s tweet also contradicted the White House’s already stated position in favor of the stopgap bill. In a statement Thursday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president supports the House bill. “The President supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House. Congress needs to do its job and provide full funding of our troops and military with a two-year budget caps deal,” Shah said. “However, as the deal is negotiated, the President wants to ensure our military and national security are funded. He will not let it be held hostage by Democrats.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning that he anticipates the House will pass the funding bill, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was “not sure what the president means” when asked on Fox & Friends about the CHIP tweet.

The last-minute confusion over CHIP further complicates spending negotiations that were stalled when Trump rejected a bipartisan Senate immigration plan intended to pave the way for a long-term spending agreement.

The president also jabbed at Democrats in another tweet Thursday morning over the stalled negotiations to reach a deal on spending limits for this fiscal year. “A government shutdown will be devastating to our military…something the Dems care very little about!” he tweeted. Democrats are resisting a spending deal agreement until a bipartisan immigration deal is clinched.

The immigration talks fell apart last week after Trump rejected a plan proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to pair increased border security with new legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 700,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children. They had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama executive order that Trump has rescinded.

It was during that meeting that Trump reportedly used a vulgar slur when questioning why the U.S. would want more immigrants from Africa nations.

Trump also weighed in Thursday on Twitter on immigration, again demanding money for a wall along the southern border with Mexico. “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!,” Trump tweeted.

Democrats say they will not accept any spending bill that funds the construction of a physical border wall, but they have been willing to negotiate over money for increased technology and other forms of border security.

Now, a second group of negotiators, led by the second-ranking Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, has stepped in to attempt to craft a new deal, but the talks have been largely unsuccessful, according to several aides familiar with the discussions.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, is one of those negotiators. But he has indicated he will vote against the stopgap funding measure in the Senate. A growing number of Senate Democrats see the vote on the funding bill as leverage to try to reach a deal on immigration, even if their opposition threatens a shutdown.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and two centrist Democrats, Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, announced Thursday morning they would oppose the funding measure. All three voted in favor of the stopgap measure in late December.

“Congress should remain in session with no recess until we work out a long-term bipartisan budget deal that addresses all issues,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement in which they said they would vote for a stopgap measure lasting just a few days to keep the government’s lights on and negotiations ongoing. Virginia is home to a large number of federal government employees who would be directly affected by a shutdown.

The House needs to pass a bill Thursday in order to give the Senate time to do the same ahead of the midnight Friday deadline. Thursday afternoon, the bill cleared a key procedural step in the House, opening the door to a possible final vote on the bill in the House on Thursday evening.

One key Democratic divide in the Senate is a tactical split between the Democrats running for re-election this year in states that Trump carried and the Democrats being mentioned as possible 2020 contenders.

Hopefuls like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand all oppose voting for a funding bill if it doesn’t include permanent protections for DACA recipients. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has advocated for this, too.

In December, seven of the 10 Democrats running in states that Trump won in 2016 voted in favor of the funding bill.

Immigration activists have increased the pressure on Democrats to oppose any spending measure while DACA is still unresolved. United We Dream has labeled Democrats who voted for the last funding bill, in December, as the “Deportation Caucus.”

When asked this morning whether he would be responsible if the government shuts down, Trump responded: “Could happen. We’ll see what happens. It’s up to the Democrats.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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