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GOP leaders lobby Trump to support spending deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to members of the media as Sen. Roy Blunt, Sen. John Barrasso, Sen. Todd Young, and Senate Majority Whip John Thune listen on Feb. 5. GOP leaders are urging Trump to agree to the latest spending deal. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is keeping Washington in suspense on whether he will sign off on a bipartisan spending deal, caught between GOP leaders who back the agreement and conservative allies that drove him to accept a shutdown in December.

Trump sent mixed messages on his plans Tuesday. First, he told reporters that he doesn’t love the deal reached by congressional negotiators Monday night, but then he said he doesn’t want another shutdown either. He also declined to rule out a national emergency to deliver funding to his border wall.

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“I’m not happy about it. It’s not doing the trick,” Trump said of the agreement, before adding, “I don’t think you are going to see a shutdown. I wouldn’t want to go to it. If you did have it, it’s the Democrats’ fault.”

Trump’s ambivalence seemed to freeze many in the GOP, with lawmakers unwilling to endorse the deal until hearing from the president and wary he might reject it. That included conservatives like James Lankford of Oklahoma and moderate Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who said they also needed to review more details.

Republicans and Trump seem unified on avoiding a shutdown, but how to handle a spending agreement that provided little more than Democrats were offering two months ago seemed to be weighing on the party.

“It’s a compromise, which means everybody is unhappy,” said GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

The top Republican leaders in Congress mounted a quick campaign to convince Trump that he’d come out on top over Democratic resistance to ICE enforcement and border barrier funding. Senior GOP members of Congress are still worried that Trump could reject the deal, just as he spurned spending legislation in December that sparked a 35-day partial government shutdown.

“I never try and predict,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), on Tuesday morning. But he argued in favor of the compromise: “I’m inclined to be for something that gets us out of the current logjam we are in and builds the wall and keeps the government open. From what I can tell, it seems like the Dems gave a lot of ground.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) weighed in warmly about the bipartisan, bicameral pact on Tuesday morning and said he hopes the “Senate can act” on the bill as soon as possible. The GOP leader touted the legislation as a rejection of the “extreme positions” of liberals and said the agreement is “certainly good news.”

“It provides new funds for miles of new border barriers,” McConnell said. “We are grateful to our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for their leadership.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) asserted on CNBC that Democrats caved and said the party had reversed itself from providing no new wall money and limiting detention beds for interior enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The Democrats have now agreed to more than 55 miles of new barrier being built,” McCarthy said.

The deal includes roughly the same amount of funding for fencing that Democrats have been offering since December.

The campaign by top Republicans to sway Trump came as critics on the right began panning the deal that provides $ 1.375 billion in funding for a border barrier — far less than the $ 5.7 billion Trump had demanded. Fox News host Sean Hannity called it a “garbage compromise” and conservative commentator Ann Coulter circulated criticisms of the compromise on Twitter.

Richard Shelby

“I haven’t signed off on the reported ‘deal’ nor have I seen it. Based on the reports, I have concerns. Lots of questions too,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), a top conservative voice in the House.

A senior House GOP aide said it’s “too early to predict” how many Republicans will vote against the bill, but suggested the number was “low.”

“My guess is Trump will say something milquetoast about it, we pass it, Trump signs it but then bashes it, and everyone regrets they ever voted for it,” said the aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Potential GOP support could come from appropriators, moderates and the dozen or so Republicans who voted with Democrats during the shutdown. That could be anywhere from 20 to 40 potential House GOP votes for the measure.

But a number of Republicans are privately griping that it’s up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders to round up the votes to pass the proposal since they’re in the majority.

“We’re in the minority now,” added the GOP aide. “A lot of members are going to stick their hands in their pockets and say, ‘Well, it’s up to Pelosi to pass this, so let’s see what she does.’”

Republicans and Democrats engaged in a spin war as soon as the deal was announced on Monday night, with Republicans asserting new miles of the wall will be built and Democrats highlighting a spending number that’s now less than the $ 1.6 billion the Senate offered Trump last year for fencing. The text of the legislation is still not available.

Democrats could face defections on the left. Progressives were pushing to put a hard cap on detention beds for ICE enforcement within the United States and did not receive it, and some may be unable to support any new barrier funding.

House Democratic leaders were set to meet on Tuesday afternoon about the deal, and senators in both parties will assess the legislation at party lunches on Tuesday. High profile Senate Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin said they would withhold judgment on the proposal until they have more details.

But Democrats said the president should shrug off the criticisms on the right.

“I strongly urge the president to sign this,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “No one gets everything we want in these agreements. The president must sign it and not, not, not cause another shutdown.”

Rebecca Morin contributed to this report.

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