President Donald Trump may be looking for a fight over the border wall ahead of the midterm election, but Senate Republicans — mindful of protecting their majority — are rebuffing the President’s call for a government shutdown, at least for now.
“It’s a negotiating tactic. I hope it’s a negotiating tactic,” Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, told reporters Monday. “We’re just going to try and get our work done and get it done on time. Hopefully they President will sign those bills.”
It’s the latest sign that the President’s own party is learning to adapt — or simply ignore — Trump’s sporadic legislative impulses. Instead of careening from one item on Trump’s Twitter wish list to another, Republican senators filed back to Washington Monday evening (House members are on recess until September) as committed as ever to their spending bill strategy: pass as many appropriations bills as possible ahead of the midterms and then turn to a stopgap funding measure known as a continuing resolution for the rest until the elections are over.
“I know he’s frustrated, and I am too, that we haven’t taken steps to adequately deal with border security, but we’ve got an orderly appropriations process going through here and hopefully we’ll get most if not all of the appropriations done before,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said.
The brief shock of the shutdown tweet over the weekend seemed to be steadily easing into Monday. One aide characterized Trump’s tweet as “just letting off some steam … at our expense, per usual.” Another, a senior GOP aide who was asked if it changed the strategy moving forward, simply said no.
The goal at the moment is for lawmakers to try and reconcile nine out of 12 appropriations bills and then move to pass a continuing resolution for the final three. The stopgap measure would include the spending bill for the homeland security, which would be the vehicle for the controversial border wall funding.
“By sometime in September, we’d like to see nine of the bills and almost 90% of the spending on the President’s desk and hopefully we continue to have cooperation with our friends on the other side to do that,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri said.
The irony of Trump’s shutdown tweet is that the appropriations process — typically fraught with political poison pills and bitter partisan bickering — has largely been a rare and under covered bright spot in Washington over the last few months. After passing a massive omnibus in the spring that Trump briefly entertained vetoing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle got to work and were emboldened to negotiate. So far, the House has passed all 12 of their appropriations bills out of committee and the Senate is on track to pass seven bill out of their chamber by the end of the week.
“I take every threat from the President seriously but I don’t think it will be necessary,” Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, said when asked about Trump’s tweet.
There’s little doubt on Capitol Hill that a shutdown showdown will loom over the border wall eventually; it’s all but inevitable. Trump has made it clear he wants money for the wall that Democrats aren’t likely to give him. The key — and political necessity — for GOP leaders is to ensure the fight won’t happen until after November.
And as of last week, the impression on Capitol Hill was Trump understood the calculation. Multiple aides, confirmed to CNN that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were under the impression that after a meeting at the White House, Trump was read in on the plan to wait until after the midterms to wage an all-out political fight over the wall.
Risking a shutdown could cloud the party’s message and Republicans have tried to impress upon the President all that the party has going for it: strong economic growth, a tax bill and a the very real potential that another Trump-nominated Supreme Court justice will soon be confirmed. Shutting down the government, Republicans argue, would trounce all over that message.
“It’s not to anyone’s advantage to shut down the government,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, told reporters. “My message to him is we are working to fund the government.”