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White House lobbying blitz holds down GOP defections on funding bill

Vice President Mike Pence made a rare trip to the House GOP conference meeting, where he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spent more than an hour speaking to members about specifics of the wall. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

An 11th hour campaign by the White House and House GOP leaders to stem Republican defections on Democratic funding bills is working.

The House GOP caucus is presenting a largely united front against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s funding strategy this week after several days of fierce lobbying by the Trump administration, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.

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Just eight Republican lawmakers voted for the first funding bill on Wednesday evening — a remarkable shift from days earlier, when top GOP leaders feared they could lose more than two dozen Republican votes and undermine President Donald Trump’s campaign for border wall money.

Nineteen days into a shutdown, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against
reopening the IRS and other key portions of the federal government. A similarly limited number of defections is expected for the other three spending bills up for a vote this week.

Just two Republicans — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — abandoned the GOP’s stance Wednesday after voting against previous Democratic funding bills.

The other GOP supporters were Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who backed a Democratic bill last week to reopen the government.

One member, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) decided to oppose the funding bill after voting with Democrats last week.

White House officials, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, had launched a full-court press this week to counter Pelosi’s attempts to pick off rank-and-file Republican support for her bills to reopen the government.

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence made a rare trip to the House GOP conference meeting, where he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spent more than an hour speaking to members about specifics of the wall. The lengthy briefing included a Q&A session, and members emerged with packets of border security statistics.

McCarthy called another closed-door GOP conference meeting on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after Trump’s televised national address — where border security also dominated the discussion.

GOP lawmakers had been feeling the heat this week as the consequences of the partial government shutdown appeared to grow harsher. Tax refunds were at risk, as well as funding for food stamps programs.

But the Office of Management and Budget took major steps early this week to mitigate some of those effects. Budget officials declared Monday that the Internal Revenue Service would still be able to process tax refunds. On Tuesday, the administration announced that it had found a way to fund nutrition assistance for struggling families.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence visit the Senate

Those tactics — as well as sharper attacks against Democrats on border security — appears to have won over at least some GOP skeptics.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who previously voted with Democrats to reopen parts of the government, will vote against the bills this week. Smith told POLITICO Wednesday he planned to vote against the funding bills, after rereading parts of the Secure Fence Act — a decade-old bill that became the chief GOP talking point on Capitol Hill.

Another Republican, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), had been “leaning yes” on the funding bills, but said he changed his mind after Democrats decided not to put forward the bipartisan, bicameral versions of those funding bills. Instead, the House will vote only on the Senate’s version of those bills.

“These are just the Senate priorities that really screw the Republicans in the House,” Simpson said of the four spending bills on the House floor this week.

“I think if people thought this bill could reopen the government, it would be a different animal,” added Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), another GOP appropriator who plans to vote against the funding bills this week.

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