CAPITOL HILL - With a potential U.S. government shutdown looming, Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday drew sharp battle lines on partisan priorities from immigration to defense spending that could scuttle an extension of federal funding.
With the clock ticking to Friday’s cutoff of government spending authority, Capitol Hill resounded with impassioned debate on proposals to shield from deportation some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.
A growing number of Democrats banded together to demand inclusion of protections for beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in any short-term spending bill.
“I know that I won’t vote for a CR (funding extension) that doesn’t have a DACA fix and I believe my Democratic colleagues in the House are the same way,” California Democratic Representative Judy Chu told reporters after a meeting of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Last year, President Donald Trump announced a March termination date for DACA, an Obama administration program that encouraged undocumented youth to register with the federal government in exchange for temporary permits to work and study in the United States. Trump challenged lawmakers to pass a permanent solution for DACA beneficiaries, but Congress has yet to act.
Republicans have rejected a standalone DACA fix, insisting that any bill include a boost to U.S. border security as well as reforms to legal immigration. Months of negotiations yielded two bipartisan immigration proposals, neither of which has received Trump’s backing so far.
Given the impasse, Republicans demanded more time for DACA discussions and proposed a stop-gap spending bill to fund the government through mid-February.
The White House said Wednesday it would support a short-term spending measure.
“For now, Congress needs to keep the government running,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said. “I find it difficult to believe my Democratic colleagues would want to shut down the government for American citizens … over illegal immigration.”
McConnell accused Democrats of manufacturing a crisis.
“We have until March, at least, to complete our ongoing negotiations on immigration. We have until Friday to fund the government,” he said.
Democrats quickly responded.
“Leader McConnell says: our way or no way. That's wrong,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “He (McConnell) calls it a manufactured crisis. It was manufactured by the Republican Party. President Trump rescinded the DACA program.”
Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress but will need Democratic votes to pass a spending bill. A faction of ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers is expected to oppose the legislation, arguing it does not address America’s defense needs.
As a result, Republican leaders are including a measure long-sought by Democrats funding for a children’s health program in hopes of enticing minority members to back the spending bill.
Many Democrats indicated they were not swayed, noting they already voted for a series of funding extensions after repeated Republican promises to address DACA.
Trump has sent conflicting signals on immigration reform and the degree to which America should welcome newcomers, especially from certain regions. Last week, Trump rejected a bipartisan Senate immigration proposal while reportedly using a vulgarity to describe Haiti and African nations.
After Wednesday’s meeting with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, White House Chief of Staff Kelly reportedly told a group of Democratic lawmakers that some of President Trump’s campaign promises on immigration, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, are “uninformed.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Kelly also told the lawmakers that the U.S. won’t construct a physical wall along the entire border with Mexico, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary.
Kelly all but confirmed the report during an appearance on Fox News later Wednesday.
“[Trump’s] changed his attitude toward the DACA issue and even the wall,” Kelly said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “[Trump] has evolved in the way he’s looked at things. Campaigns and governing are two different things.”
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who was present at the meeting, later confirmed the Post report.
“I can confirm that Chief of Staff Kelly said today that the president’s campaign was not fully informed about the wall he was promising to voters,” Gutiérrez said in a statement. “Kelly went on to say that many campaigns are not fully informed about every policy and that campaigning and governing are two different things and that governing is harder. Kelly took credit for educating the president on the wall and that a concrete barrier from sea to shining sea was no longer the conception of border security barriers supported today by the White House.”
Katherine Gypson contributed to this report