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Paul Ryan Caught Between Freedom Caucus, Democrats

Lacking votes on resolving shutdown, speaker will need to negotiate with one or the other

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., left, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have just a couple of days left to round up support to avoid a government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., left, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have just a couple of days left to round up support to avoid a government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Likely short of the votes he needs to pass a stopgap government funding bill through his chamber by Friday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan spent Wednesday morning railing against Democrats — whose votes he may need to court.

A four-week continuing resolution that GOP leaders unveiled Tuesday night faces opposition from members of the House Freedom Caucus who want immediate action to increase defense spending and from Democrats who want a resolution this week on the status of some 690,000 young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

While Ryan swatted off a question about whether he has the Republican votes to pass a CR, saying GOP leaders haven’t whipped it yet, he is likely to find he’ll need to negotiate with the Freedom Caucus or with Democrats.

The speaker’s comments during a Wednesday morning news conference repeatedly criticizing Democrats for threatening to oppose the CR over immigration suggest he’s not ready to reach out to the latter.

“It’s baffling to me that Democrats would be willing to block funding for our military over unrelated issues,” Ryan said.

He also said it was “unconscionable” Democrats would oppose funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, six years of which is included in the CR.

Democrats are preventing agreement on raising the sequestration spending caps needed to write a fiscal 2018 omnibus spending measure instead of further stopgap funding bills, Ryan suggested.

“I think the caps deal is very, very close, and I think the Democrats are holding out on the caps deal over these DACA negotiations,” he said.

Holding up government funding “for deadlines that don’t even exist this Friday; that makes no sense to me,” he added.

Ryan said Republicans are operating under a March 5 deadline for passing an immigration deal, as that is when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would end.

President Donald Trump supports the House Republican-crafted CR and will urge the Freedom Caucus to back it, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. However, she said the administration’s “first choice” remains a two-year “clean budget deal,” followed by a measure that includes a fix for DACA and other immigration issues.

While Ryan is not making any public overtures toward Democrats to get their votes on the CR, he apparently has not made any private ones to the Freedom Caucus.

“There haven’t been any discussions with leadership on any of the plans,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said of three plans his caucus has come up with that could get them to support the stopgap. “So I would say we’re still at the starting line ready to go.”

Asked if he feels leadership was waiting for the actual whip count to initiate talks, Meadows said, “I’m sure they’re going to see [the CR can’t pass as is]. But they’re saying they’re going to have a vote regardless.”

So far, House Democrats are united in opposition to the four-week CR because it fails to address several of their priorities, including but not limited to the DACA situation, caucus leaders said Wednesday.

To garner large-scale Democratic support, the stopgap measure would need to better reflect Democratic “values,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley said. While Democrats support the funding for CHIP that was included in the CR, “we believe that it’s woefully lacking in other issues,” the New York Democrat said.

Those other issues include funding for community health centers, opioid abuse prevention and disaster relief, in addition to a legislative replacement for DACA, Crowley said.

“Absent that, it will not have the support of the Democratic caucus,” he said.

Rep. Linda Sánchez, the caucus vice chairwoman, said Democrats are “overwhelmingly united” in their opposition to the CR but no one is forcing members to reach that conclusion.

“Nobody is directing members,” the California Democrat said. “Members are making choices on what’s best for their districts.”

Sánchez also spoke about the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Wednesday morning meeting with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The caucus briefed Kelly, who requested the meeting, on a bipartisan measure from Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Pete Aguilar of California that addresses the status of DACA recipients and includes some border security measures.

The CHC believes the measure “is the way to go,” according to Sánchez, who said a bipartisan solution needs to be “narrow in scope,” addressing just the DACA and border security elements.

Other immigration policy areas where Democrats and Republicans disagree, like whether to continue extended family visas or the diversity visa lottery program, should be addressed later in discussions on a comprehensive immigration overhaul, she said.

The CHC asked Kelly if President Donald Trump would sign the Hurd-Aguilar bill if Congress were to pass it.

“He did not give a guarantee that the president would, although he reiterated that the president is committed to finding a solution for Dreamers,”Sánchez said.

Kelly knew about the bill but was not familiar with the details, she said, noting, “We tried to catch him up to speed.”

Crowley said that if Trump would show leadership, compassion and empathy, “which he hasn’t shown so far,” he believes a bipartisan DACA deal can be struck.

“My hope is some of those elements will come to the president at some point and the Republican leadership,” he said.

Sánchez reiterated the urgency of reaching an agreement, saying every day that goes by without a solution is affecting Dreamers who are worried about their future.

“This myth that it’s not until March that people are affected is false,” she said. “Much like spending bills, Republicans just want to run out the clock and delay and delay.”

The bipartisan, bicameral talks among congressional leaders “speak to the fact” that Republicans want a solution on DACA, Ryan said as he defended their push for a more comprehensive deal.

Trump has called for a DACA fix that includes border security measures, such as funding for a wall along the southern border, and an end to the diversity visa lottery program and extended family visas.

“The president is being completely rational” in his demands for dealing with the root cause of the DACA issue, and that’s lax border security and enforcement of immigration laws, Ryan said.

“We will not bring a DACA bill that the president won’t support,” Ryan said. “What point would that be?”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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