Congressional Leaders Visit White House For Shutdown Talks | WBEZ
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Congressional Leaders Visit White House For Shutdown Talks

Updated at 3:52 p.m. ET

Congress is moving to head off a partial shut down of the federal government at the end of the day Friday. The House is set to vote on a continuing resolution, or C.R., to extend government funding by two weeks, moving that deadline to the Friday before Christmas and setting up a possible showdown over immigration and defense spending as Congress is trying to leave town.

The four top leaders of Congress — House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — went to the White House Thursday to discuss broader issues that would be part of a long-term spending deal.

President Trump tried to emphasize bipartisan unity, appearing with the leaders and Vice President Pence in the Oval Office before they began talks on Thursday afternoon.

"We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group. It's a well-knit together group of people," Trump said. "And we hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen."

This meeting is a make-up of sorts. The leaders were invited over by the president last week, but the Democrats backed out after Trump tweeted that a deal on government funding wasn't likely and called them "weak on crime," among other insults.

"We're here in the spirit of 'let's get it done,'" Schumer said in the Oval Office on Thursday. He and Pelosi mentioned issues such as funding the military, the opioid crisis, veterans and children's health care.

House conservatives have raised objections to the current plan to extend funding until Dec. 22 before reaching a longer-term deal because they worry the pressure to leave town right before Christmas will give Democrats leverage to get more of their priorities included in a spending bill at that time. But GOP leaders need those conservatives to support the measure in the House because Democrats are refusing to vote for it.

"I feel good where we are," House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the vote count Thursday morning. "It's kind of just basic governing, is keeping government going while we negotiate the finer details."

Democrats have a rare bit of leverage in this situation. Unlike the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code, Republicans need 60 votes in the Senate to pass government funding. With 52 Republicans in the chamber, that means they need at least 8 votes from Democrats or the independents who caucus with them.

Republicans can pass such a measure in the House with only GOP votes because they require just a simple majority, but with approximately 40 conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus usually opposed to spending bills, House Democrats have been needed to pass such measures in recent years.

"We expect a clean C.R. to pass with Democrat support. That's what we hope will happen," said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders ahead of the Oval Office meeting on Thursday. The call for a "clean C.R." means the White House is looking for at least a short-term funding extension without other policy provisions attached.

Democrats are seeking permanent legal status for so-called DREAMers as part of a long-term government funding deal. Those are the roughly 700,000 immigrants in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump announced an end to the Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as of March 2018. DACA keeps those nearly 700,000 immigrants from being deported by immigration authorities.

The hope of many Democrats is to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would establish a path to citizenship for such immigrants. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference on Thursday that it is one of the party's priorities. She said Democrats won't leave at the end of the month without an immigration deal, but she added, "Democrats are not willing to shut government down, no."

Pelosi and Schumer have both said that they are willing make a deal for protections for DREAMers that includes border security funds sought by Republicans, but not funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that the White House continues to call for.

Pelosi added that Democrats will not support the two-week funding extension the House is voting on Thursday because she said it does not fund priorities such as fighting the opioid epidemic, veterans funding, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was not reauthorized by Congress in September.

"This is a waste of time," Pelosi said of the current measure.

Republicans have demands, too. They are seeking an increase in defense spending and relief from funding caps put in place by the Budget Control Act in 2011. Democrats say that would be acceptable if spending on domestic programs is increased with parity.

At the start of Thursday's meeting, Trump asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to speak as well, as he joined the congressional leaders gathered at the White House. "The number one priority for our country is to make certain we protect this Constitution and our way of life, and we've got great bipartisan support. I'm confident we'll walk out of this with it."

The White House says the leaders were taken to the Situation Room for a briefing by Mattis on military matters.

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