House Democrats — increasingly convinced they’re winning the shutdown fight with President Donald Trump — are plotting ways to reopen the government while denying the president even a penny more for his border wall when they take power Jan. 3.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants are considering several options that would refuse Trump the $5 billion he’s demanded for the wall and send hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work, according to senior Democratic sources.
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While the strategy is fluid, House Democrats hope to pass a funding bill shortly after members are sworn in. They believe that would put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow suit. And they’re are confident that their political leverage will only increase the longer the shutdown lasts — a notion that some GOP leaders agree with privately.
Indeed, the specter of a lengthy shutdown could hurt Trump’s already damaged image more than it would Democrats — especially because he claimed ownership of the crisis two weeks ago. Democrats believe the shutdown battle — combined with the volatility in financial markets and the special counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump — exacerbates the appearance of a cornered president acting out of his own political self-interest instead of the needs of the American public.
“We want … the government open and my hope is we can get it opened before Jan. 3,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming Rules Committee chairman. “If not, one of the first things we’ll do will be to move to pass legislation to re-open the government. And the president can decide whether he wants to sign it or not.”
“I believe Democrats are going to move [to end the shutdown] on Jan. 3,” added Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat whose district includes thousands of federal employees. “It’s got to be the first item of business.”
On Thursday afternoon, when the House briefly went into a pro-forma session, McGovern tried to bring up a Senate-passed bill to re-open the government, the second attempt by House Democrats to do so in recent days. Republicans refused to recognize McGovern, stifling his effort — but not before he yelled to the empty chamber: “Mr. Speaker, 800,000 federal employees don’t know whether they will get paid! Mr. Speaker!”
With it increasing unlikely that Republicans will do anything in the remainder of the 115th Congress to end the stalemate, House Democrats are considering a procedural tactic that would allow them to move quickly once they’re officially in the majority on Jan. 3.
They’re weighing including multiple funding options in a package of rules for the new Congress that they intend to approve that day, according to Democratic sources. That would give Trump and Senate Republicans several options to choose from.
The alternatives under discussion have all been floated to Trump already by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But one option they’re not considering, sources close to the Democratic leaders said, is offering the president more than the $1.6 billion they already put on the table to fund fencing at the southern border.
So far, Trump has refused the $1.6 billion as too little. But Democrats believe he’ll come under fire as stories of furloughed federal employees spread in January, and the chaos of a shutdown starts to affect everyday Americans.
“The American people know that this is a Trump shutdown,” McGovern said.
One option Democrats are considering is a short-term funding measure to open now-shuttered agencies until Feb. 8. A week ago, the Senate approved a continuing resolution with that timeline. Some House Democrats believe that if they quickly push the CR through their own chamber, McConnell — a former appropriator who despises shutdowns — will feel pressure to act.
A short-term bill would also allow newly empowered House Democratic appropriators to put their mark on the last remaining funding bills before they pass a larger package in February, two Democratic sources pointed out.
But with Trump still urging Hill Republicans to fight for his wall, McConnell is unlikely to take up a stop-gap funding bill. GOP leaders have made clear they will not act without the president’s public support for any funding bill to reopen the government.
Connolly also isn’t interested in a short-term funding solution. He wants an agreement that keeps the entire government funded through Sept. 30.
“I see a growing sentiment among Democrats to have a funding vehicle that carries us through the end of the fiscal year,” Connolly added. A “short-term CR gets us very little.”
Trump rejected a temporary fix just last week, instead blessing an attempt by House Republicans provide $5 billion for the wall, which led to the shutdown.
House Democrats are also considering a CR for the affected agencies that would last through the fiscal year. Such a proposal would mean no policy changes for the agencies that are currently closed; they would operate on the same budget they had in fiscal 2018.
A third option being considered includes passing full appropriations bills for all affected agencies except the Homeland Security Department, which is where Trump’s wall money would go. That department would operate under current levels through the rest of the fiscal year.
No matter what option they go with, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other Democrats from Virginia and Maryland intend to add a provision to any funding bill guaranteeing back pay for any federal employees hit by the shutdown.