Republican Lawmakers Clash With Trump Over Spending Bill

Aug 21, 2018
Originally published on August 21, 2018 9:50 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Here's an issue Senate Democrats and Republicans are on the same page about. They do not want a government shutdown just weeks before the midterm elections. That means they're actually working together to get spending bills passed. But President Trump is on a different page. He thinks a big fight over money for a border wall will help his party keep control of Congress. NPR's Kelsey Snell has more on this latest clash between Republican lawmakers and the president.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: This is what it sounds like when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is really excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Bill by bill, we are rebuilding a regular process for responsibly appropriating taxpayers' money. We're achieving what we set out to do, and we're doing it together.

SNELL: That may not seem like much, but he's celebrating something the Senate hasn't done in 15 years. Senators are skipping their annual August recess to pass bipartisan spending bills. They're on track to approve nearly 90 percent of federal spending for the next fiscal year. And that sends a powerful message to President Trump, who has spent the past several months in interviews and events threatening to shut down the government if he doesn't get funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're building it. We're building it. We're building it.

I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It's time we had proper border security.

And we're going to start to get very nasty over the wall. You know...

You have no idea how tough I've been. And I say, hey, if you have a shutdown, you have a shutdown. Now, the shutdown...

SNELL: And he repeats the same threats on Twitter. He says he won't sign spending bills until he gets the money. It all goes back to a central theme of his presidential campaign. He promised voters a border wall, and he blames Congress for failing to make it happen. But the last thing Republicans want a little bit more than a month before the midterm election in November is to fail to keep the government open. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby says the Senate is doing everything it can to avoid that.

RICHARD SHELBY: I've been here when the Democrats got blamed for it. I've been here when the Republicans got blamed for it. I've been here when all of us got blamed for it. And that's what we're trying to avoid now. That's why up to now we've made the progress that we have.

SNELL: That's always their goal. But this year, passing those spending bills means that even if Trump tries to shut down the government, there won't be much left for him to shut down. The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, says they're leaving border security, including the wall, for last.

JOHN CORNYN: I think we're trying to do everything we can in a bipartisan way before we then have to get to the sticky issue of border security and what the appropriate level is. But it won't be necessary to shut down the government to do that.

SNELL: Congress could undermine Trump's threats by simply doing its job. All this was made a lot easier earlier this year when Congress agreed to a two-year budget deal to end the last government shutdown. Shelby says with every bill they pass, Congress gets a little more of the spending power back.

SHELBY: The more we get done, it strengthens our hand. It strengthens everybody's hand.

SNELL: But all of this hinges on whether the House gets on board with what the Senate is doing. And that's far from a given. House Republicans are notoriously split over spending for everything from border security to health care. If conservatives revolt or they decide they also want a border fight, the plan goes out the window. Or Trump could simply decide he doesn't want to sign any spending bills at all. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin says that's no solution for a political problem.

JOE MANCHIN: No person should be talking about a shutdown from the president to any of us. Stay here and work through it. There's no reason to shut anything down.

SNELL: But Trump may ignore what his own party is doing and decide that a shutdown is just good politics. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.