WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan tried pressuring Democrats on Wednesday to back legislation preventing a weekend federal shutdown. But he gave little ground on the partisan battle over immigration, an issue many Democrats say must be resolved before they’ll vote to keep agencies functioning.
A day after conservatives expressed opposition to the short-term spending bill and said GOP leaders lacked the votes to pass it, Ryan declined to say if he had enough Republican support to push it through the House this week. Vote counters planned to gauge GOP support later Wednesday.
Instead, Ryan, R-Wis., said it was “baffling” why Democrats would oppose the spending measure, noting it contains money for the military and a widely supported children’s health insurance program. Republicans are hoping the money for children will pressure some Democrats to back the overall bill.
“I think cool heads hopefully will prevail,” Ryan told reporters. Congress must approve the measure by Friday night to prevent a shutdown.
Ryan also said he wants to reach compromise on immigration but won’t bring such a measure to the House floor unless President Donald Trump supports it. He said Trump is being “completely rational” in demanding that the bill have stronger border security provisions than a bipartisan immigration proposal from six senators that he rejected last week.
Separately, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Democrats met privately in the Capitol with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and some emerged citing little progress. The talks were on legislation aimed at shielding hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, protections Trump has ended and will expire in March.
“They have a disproportionate focus on the border more than anything else,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the six senators who crafted a bipartisan proposal, said after the meeting. He added that in return for protecting the young immigrants often called Dreamers, “What they want in return is continuously a moving target and it continuously expands.”
Congressional leaders planned to meet later Wednesday to continue discussing ways to reach agreement.
It seems certain that no immigration accord will be reached this week, in time to affect the outcome on the vote on the separate bill preventing a federal shutdown. If Congress can’t temporarily finance the government by Friday, a shutdown would begin the next day, an election-year debacle that GOP leaders and many Democrats are eager to avoid for fear of alienating voters.
House Republican leaders tried to win over wary conservatives for the spending bill by sweetening it. They added a two-year delay on implementation of unpopular taxes on medical devices and generous employer-subsidized health care plans. The taxes, also unpopular with many Democrats, are part of former President Barack Obama’s marquee health law.
In a bid to pressure Democrats, GOP leaders also included a long-delayed, six-year renewal of a popular health insurance program for children of low-income families. The overall measure would fund the government through Feb. 16 and was well received by most GOP lawmakers when Ryan proposed it Tuesday.
Tuesday night, the leader of the Freedom Caucus emerged from a meeting of the hard right group to say its members — and other GOP lawmakers— want the short-term bill to contain added money for the military.
“There’s not enough support to pass it with GOP-only votes in the House,” the group’s leader, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters.
Even if the spending measure succeeds in the House, Republicans would still need at least nine Democratic votes to push it through the Senate, which the GOP controls 51-49. Democrats seeking leverage are forcing that bill to require 60 votes for passage.
When the Senate approved a similar short-term spending bill in December, 17 Democrats plus Maine independent Angus King voted to keep the government open. Seven of those Democrats face re-election in November in Trump-won states — including West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana, which have small numbers of minority voters.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said he’ll vote for a short-term spending bill without a plan to assist the immigrants facing possible deportation, saying, “Shutting down the government isn’t going to help them.”
Democrats voting against that December bill included some senators — such as Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California — who might seek the presidency in 2020 and would love support from their party’s liberal voters.
The immigration talks were soured by Trump’s incendiary remarks about “shithole” countries in Africa last week.
“There’s no trust there,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Democrats want to keep the government open, “but we’re not going to be held hostage to do things that we think are going to be contrary to the best interests of the American people.”
Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, late last year but gave Congress until March 5 to pass legislation extending the initiative created by President Barack Obama. It has protected around 800,000 young immigrants from deportation.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Marcy Gordon and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.