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Mitch McConnell announces short-term fix to avert partial government shutdown

The next fight will be between Trump and a Democratic House.

President Donald Trump speaks at White House in Washington on December 15, 2018.
It’s looking like we won’t have a partial government shutdown after all.
Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

After weeks of shutdown talk — amped up in a particularly bizarre meeting with President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — it’s looking like the government will probably stay open, after all.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced plans to consider a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded through February 8, likely setting up a showdown in the new year between the Democratic House and the White House. This short-term spending package, if passed by the House and Senate later this week, will cover the federal agencies that have yet to be funded by seven outstanding appropriations bills and help the government avert a partial shutdown.

A portion of the government has been at risk of closing at midnight on Friday, December 21, primarily due to Trump’s insistence on funding for his border wall. While Democrats weren’t interested in providing more than $1.3 billion in border security funding (a new line in the sand they drew last week), Trump had said he was open to vetoing any bill that didn’t contain the $5 billion he wanted.

McConnell signaled in his Wednesday speech that the ongoing fight over the wall has now effectively been punted to 2019.

“We’ll soon take up a simple measure that will continue government funding into February so we can continue this vital debate after the new Congress has convened,” McConnell said. “Make no mistake, Mr. President, there will be important unfinished business in front of us and we’ll owe it to the American people to finally tackle it.”

It just goes to show that while a lot of Trump’s high-stakes rhetoric suggests a shutdown, there’s little appetite for one this time around, particularly when many outgoing lawmakers have already been skipping town.

Congress looks like it’s avoiding a shutdown this time, but there’s only more of this kind of talk ahead

Sen. Richard Shelby, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the dynamics on these funding bills will likely be different in the new Congress, when Democrats will control the House and have significantly more leverage as a result.

“The situation changes, you’re going to have a divided government now … I think you have to reconfigure the equation,” Shelby told reporters on Wednesday, noting that it’s “too early to say” whether a Democrat-dominated House would definitively thwart future attempts to expand border wall funding.

An appropriations bill designating funds for the Department of Homeland Security — which oversees money for border security — has been at the core of a shutdown standoff, with Trump bombastically re-upping demands he’s made about a border wall.

“If we don’t get what we want one way or another … I will shut down the government,” he declared during his meeting with Democrats last week. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

With the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching, however, it appears that the White House is now backing down and will try to renew this push in the new year, when it has a wider berth to continue hammering its political message and blame any potential stalemate on the Democratic House.

Additionally, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered some cryptic remarks this week, in which she said the administration was looking into exploring “other ways” to fund the wall. It’s unclear if this is a concrete idea or whether such a plan, if it exists, would even be legal.

Originally, it had seemed that Trump might have taken a firmer stance on this particular appropriations deadline because Republicans control both chambers of Congress and would be more likely to usher his border wall plans through as they hang onto power during the lame-duck session.

Instead, it appears that he’ll cave on his threats about the spending bill, yet again.

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