President Donald Trump and GOP leaders are negotiating with Democrats
How to address immigration remains a contentious issue
The House and Senate passed legislation Thursday to fund the government through December 22, removing the threat of a disruption to federal agencies for two weeks while Republican and Democratic leaders work to resolve a tough set of policy differences that would allow them to pass a long-term spending bill.
The votes came shortly after the top four Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress met with President Donald Trump and other officials at the White House to begin narrowing those differences.
But there was no clear evidence they made much headway.
“We had a good meeting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said when he returned to the Capitol. “We agreed to keep on talking.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had a similar readout of the meeting in a joint statement.
“We had a productive conversation on a wide variety of issues,” the Democrats said. “Nothing specific has been agreed to, but discussions continue.”
A Democratic aide said “the vast majority of the meeting” dealt with how to raise the spending caps, which, if agreed to, could help unlock most of the other fiscal parts of the negotiations. Republicans are insisting on a major boost to defense spending. Democrats are insisting on an equal boost to domestic spending.
“That’s been the primary point of debate thus far in the talks, and it was in the meeting,” the Democratic aide said.
The leaders are negotiating a variety of year-end fiscal issues and a handful of other matters – including controversial immigration policy – and each side is vowing to stand firm despite the threat of shutdown just before Christmas.
The most contentious issue concerns what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama established by executive action and has allowed young people brought to the US illegally to stay in the country. The Trump administration has decided to phase out the program, and while there is bipartisan support for addressing the issue legislatively, lawmakers disagree over how and when to do it.
Republicans said the issue should be separated from the other year-end issues.
“While all agreed on the need to address the DACA population, the Republican leaders stressed the need to address border security, interior enforcement and other parts of our broken immigration system and that this should be a separate process and not used to hold hostage funding for our men and women in uniform,” House Speaker Paul Ryan and McConnell’s offices said in a statement.
But Democrats said DACA remains a top priority and must be settled this year.
“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” Pelosi said at a news conference earlier Thursday when asked if she is backing down from insisting on action on DACA as part of year-end negotiations.
Other key issues included raising spending caps on defense and domestic programs, negotiating spending priorities for federal departments, approving disaster aid, reauthorizing the national flood insurance program, reforming the Affordable Care Act, and reauthorizing a children’s health insurance program.
The White House meeting came just over a week after another between the four congressional leaders and Trump was abruptly canceled by Democrats after Trump tweeted that he didn’t think they would be able to reach a deal.
That interaction raised fears Trump and congressional Democrats wouldn’t be able to bridge their differences. However, there have been numerous positive signs in recent days that congressional leaders, despite their stark divisions on policy, want to reach a deal, including a collegial conversation between McConnell and Schumer on the Senate floor shortly before they traveled to the White House.
At the top of Thursday’s meeting, when reporters were invited in for a photo-op, Trump set an upbeat tone.
“We’re all here as a very friendly, well-unified group,” Trump said. “It’s a well-knit-together group of people, and we hope that we’re going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen.”