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White House Swivels Back to GOP Leaders Amid Shutdown

After Friday talks with Schumer, Trump turns to McConnell

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden on Oct. 16.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden on Oct. 16.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The White House is negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on a way out of the government shutdown after talks with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer failed on Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Roll Call. But because the White House and GOP leaders need some Democratic support to clear a 60-vote threshold in the chamber, it is not clear how this approach would solve the Republicans’ math problem.

It is possible White House officials are working with McConnell on an approach discussed late Friday and early Saturday on the Senate floor by a bipartisan group. Under the groups’ proposal, Senate Democrats would allow a three-week continuing resolution to pass and McConnell would allow a floor debate on legislation to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in the coming weeks.

That process would include a possible vote on an immigration measure offered by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina , a plan Trump at one point signaled openness to but has since rejected. It would also likely include a possible vote on an alternative by Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue, a Trump ally.

Sanders declined multiple requests to comment directly on the bipartisan proposal. But she did not rule out the president supporting it.

The bipartisan group’s envisioned next steps are not out of line with a statement Sanders issued early Saturday morning after the Senate nixed a House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government for four weeks.

“When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform,” Sanders said in the statement, which also described Senate Democrats as “obstructionist losers.”

Later Saturday, Trump’s legislative affairs director sounded a similar tone.

“I think the administration’s position on this is as soon as they open the government, we’ll resume negotiations on DACA,” Marc Short told reporters at the Capitol, noting that Trump and McConnell talked that morning.

Short said the administration is opposed to the Graham-Durbin proposal and said there’s no point in the Senate voting on it.

Watch: McConnell, Durbin Make Their Case As Shutdown Looms

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He said the immigration talks among the No. 2 congressional leaders should continue.

House Republicans appear largely in sync with the White House on not negotiating on immigration until the government is open.

While GOP leaders said they’d accept a stopgap through Feb. 8, most rank-and-file members declined to take a position beyond the four-week CR the House passed, saying the Senate should act.

About the promise to consider a Graham-Durbin measure, many House Republicans did not think it would pass.

“I think it’s going to go down and that’s why he’s doing it, to show Graham and those guys that they’re delusional,” Idaho Rep. Raúl R. Labrador said.

Not all House Republicans feel that way, though.

“They might, but that’s the price of leadership,” Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, said when asked if Republicans would revolt if a DACA bill that couldn’t get majority support from the majority party was put on the floor.

He said that as GOP lawmakers “move into primary season,” it will only become tougher for them to work through must-pass issues.

“We’re not going to get off this treadmill of CRs until we get into some serious negotiating on the budget agreement, debt ceiling, and DACA, it’s that simple,” Dent said.

Three-week proposal

One proposal under discussion in the Senate is a stopgap funding measure that would last until Feb. 8. It is unclear whether Democrats will support it. McConnell tried to advance such a measure early Saturday morning, but it was blocked by Schumer.

Graham has been among the proponents of the three-week CR.

“I believe such a proposal would pass if there was a commitment that after February 8th the Senate would move to an immigration debate with an open amendment process if no alternative agreement was reached with the White House and House of Representatives,” the South Carolina Republican said in a statement.

Such sentiments are not sitting well with some of his House colleagues.

“We’re not going to sit and wait for Senate Democrats to tell us what to do,” House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said, suggesting the House could send a new bill to the Senate before the other chamber did so.

The Texas Republican said the Rules Committee will need to meet Saturday to provide new authority to bring a bill to the floor since the current authority expires the same day.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, though, signaled support for the three-week CR.

“I believe we should accept if they went through Feb. 8,” the California Republican said.

The Graham-Durbin immigration measure would address the DACA program, which is scheduled to expire March 5. Democrats have seized on the measure, which has bipartisan support, and have demanded the legislation be included in any short-term spending deal — something congressional GOP leadership and the White House oppose.

Several Republicans also strongly oppose the measure. There is no legislative text available despite months of back and forth on the topic.

A Graham spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for the language.

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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