Republicans Standing Behind Trump on Wall, Though Cracks Emerge




 

(Bloomberg) -- Most GOP lawmakers remained firmly behind President Donald Trump's fight to fund a border wall but that solidarity was beginning to crack among Republicans from competitive states and districts as the impact of the government shutdown spread.

As Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office and with the partial shutdown in its 18th day, the president's allies insisted they'll reject any new attempts by Democrats to pass government funding bills without the $5.7 billion the president is demanding for the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in a statement released minutes after the president's speech on Tuesday night, said Trump's "proposal to increase security through physical barriers suits the reality on the ground." He said the Democrats were acting out of "partisan spite for the president."

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, called Trump's address "a firm commitment to reopening the government while also securing our southern border."

Earlier Tuesday, Scalise said he saw a largely unified Republican conference emerge from a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Trump ally who leads the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he'd be "surprised" if as many 15 Republicans vote with Democrats on four separate bills being considered this week to fund parts of the government. He said only the roughly half-dozen "usual suspects" in his party would go along. Seven Republicans voted for one of the Democratic funding bills last week.

"Quite frankly, I see no wavering," Meadows said.

Democrats remain adamantly against considering the president's wall until the government is reopened. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, in the Democratic response to Trump's address, said that "No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were willing to back infrastructure at ports of entry, new technology to check for drugs and more personnel. But she said Trump was manufacturing a crisis and was "holding the American people hostage."

Although Democrats control the House and will be able to pass the measures that would accomplish that, they once again will be blocked in the GOP-controlled Senate. Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said Republicans in that chamber aren't feeling any pressure to take up the House legislation to fund the government.

Shutdown Reservations

However, a few senators have expressed reservations about the extended shutdown.

Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who heads the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, said she might be able to support a stopgap bill for homeland security spending along with reopening the rest of government. She dismissed Trump's bravado last week about potentially keeping the government shut down for "years."

"No way," she said.

Most of the Republican defectors so far are lawmakers who face re-election in 2020 in competitive states or districts. That includes Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado - the only two Republicans who will be defending seats in 2020 in states Trump lost - and House Republicans who mostly represent competitive districts.

Breaking Away

Representative Fred Upton a Michigan Republican who voted for the Democratic bills last week, said a group of moderates known as the Tuesday Group will meet to discuss whether to vote for the individual Democrats' appropriations bills Pelosi plans to bring to the floor this week.

"I will be voting for them," Upton said, adding that he'll encourage others to break ranks in the Wednesday meeting.

Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania and a former FBI agent, said he knows what it's like to not receive a paycheck during a government shutdown.

"We can't have these debates with the government shut down," Fitzpatrick added.

Pence and other administration officials went to the Capitol Tuesday night to shore up Republican support for Trump's position. Throughout the day, the White House had been trying to assuage GOP lawmakers and addressing issues that could threaten their broad support for the president. Trump plans to have lunch with Republican senators at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The administration has been taking actions mitigate some effects of the impasse by keeping many national parks open despite a lack of staffing and announcing that tax refunds would go out on schedule.

Pence told them food stamps would continue to be distributed at least through the end of February. The Agriculture Department said it has authority through a provision in a previous stopgap spending bill that allows the government to pay obligations for 30 days.

Representative Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he said he was relieved by the news from Pence and others in the meeting that money for food stamps and child nutrition will continue to be distributed at least through February.

"I think the conference remains unified, behind the president," he said.

While Republican leaders said the party was standing behind the president on his demand for wall money, several key GOP lawmakers were skeptical to the idea of using an emergency declaration to break the deadlock. Trump made no such declaration in his address, but he and his aides have discussed how that might be done.

Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said it would "be damaging" for the president to reallocate military funds to constructing a border wall. Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said the standoff should be solved in a less controversial fashion.

McConnell said earlier Tuesday that he wouldn't allow a vote on a government funding bill unless it "can pass the House, earn 60 votes here in the Senate, and get the presidential signature - that's what it takes to make a law."

In protest, 44 of 47 Democratic senators banded together to filibuster a package of Middle East policies.

--With assistance from Erik Wasson and Anna Edgerton.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sahil Kapur in Washington at skapur39@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, John Harney

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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