Republican Sen. Susan Collins almost dropped her handbag Thursday as she gestured disbelief at word, delivered to her by reporters in the Capitol, that President Donald Trump would not sign the budget extension to keep government funded until February unless border wall money was added.
“Did he just say that?” she asked as she left a Republican lunch. “Ugh, are you ruining my life?”
Collins was already headed to the airport to return home to Maine and wait for the drama to play out, when word came, via House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had met with Trump, that a government shutdown now seemed more likely.
“Boy, we can’t have government shut down. It’s never good,” she said. “How many times do we have to learn that?”
Collins and other GOP senators were told they would be given 24 hours’ notice before a vote was called so they could fly back to DC.
The White House had signaled earlier this week that Trump would sign the bill.
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, was leaving the Capitol to join Trump at the White House for the signing of the farm bill that Roberts had ushered through the Congress.
“We’re down to almost single digits here,” Roberts said about the large number of senators from both parties who left town after the Senate passed the stopgap bill late Wednesday night. “This is not a good situation.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said he and other senators at the sparsely attended GOP lunch found out Trump wouldn’t sign the bill when someone read aloud a tweet with the news. He said that after the tweet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to speak to Ryan about it.
Johnson plans to fly home later Thursday.
He said so many senators had departed the Capitol looked like a “ghost town.” In addition, he said there are concerns that so many of the retiring and defeated Republican House members had not returned to DC, for these final votes of the session, that there were doubts about House leaders could pass anything that didn’t have Democratic support. Roughly 40 members of Congress from both chambers and parties have missed votes in this latest series of votes, adding another complication to the last-ditch scramble.
“I’m not sure what leverage the President thinks he has at this moment. The way you create leverage is keep this issue alive and keep arguing why we need to secure the border,” Johnson said before noting that Trump might just change his mind again. “This could all change in 30 minutes, too.”
Several GOP senators said that even if the House passed additional funding for border security, it could not pass the Senate, where votes are needed from Democrats to advance it.
“No, he won’t have 60 votes over here,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican who’s the chairman of the Budget Committee.
Even though it won’t pass the Senate, House GOP members have calculated that they’d rather attempt to pass a short-term spending bill with $5 billion for a wall to be on the right side of the President.
“What the Senate will or won’t do, we can hang ourselves up on that here in the House,” Rep. Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, told CNN. “We know from that meeting today with the President that he is going to veto the bill if we passed it.”
“We don’t want to be in the position of a Republican House taking a bill to the President that he’s going to veto, especially on something as important as his number one priority: the wall,” McHenry added. “So it’s a tough call but we’re going to do what the President has asked. And then we’ll see if the Senate can follow up.”
When asked if he’s going to go home this weekend, McHenry shrugged and put his hands up in the air.
Some members of the House Republican Conference are angry that Trump has given no clarity on what he would sign – and are angry at their leadership for kowtowing to the President’s demands.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who is retiring at year’s end, says she’s not frustrated with Trump – it’s just what she’s come to expect. She plans to vote against the revised plan that would send $5 billion to the wall.
“I’m going out (with) a bang with the chaos, uncertainty and the drama that I have come to know and expect out of Congress,” she said. “And to expect otherwise is just not rational. Just to expect anything other than unpredictability out of President Trump is foolish.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s Alex Rogers and Manu Raju contributed to this report.