Dueling pronouncements by the leaders of the House and Senate Wednesday showed how Congress could be sleepwalking into a partial government shutdown later this month.
At a much-hyped appearance at the Texas border with Mexico, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said House Republicans wanted their entire immigration restriction bill passed, even as, back in Washington, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate majority leader, said that wasn’t going to happen.
As the leaders’ first public remarks in the new year, they highlighted another emerging round of political chicken after Congress avoided possible shutdowns in October and November. In October, Democrats were willing to jettison needed military aid for Ukraine for a temporary funding bill, while in November, House Republicans coming off a bruising intraparty fight over who should be speaker, let Democrats carry a bill to fund the government.
“We want to get the border closed and secured first, and we want to make sure we reduce non-defense discretionary spending,” Johnson told reporters at a press conference in Texas.
While Johnson said there had been negotiations almost every day through holiday break, he also said in response to a separate question that House Republicans weren’t interested in seeing only portions of their immigration bill, H.R. 2, passed.
“H.R. 2 is the necessary ingredient. Why? Because it has provisions that fix each of these problems and these provisions work together,” he said.
In Washington, where a small group of senators and White House officials continue to try to negotiate a supplemental spending bill that would include border provisions as well as aid to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region, Schumer warned House Republicans against overreach.
If the House “clings” to H.R. 2, Schumer told reporters, “We’re not going to get a deal” on the supplemental spending bill.
He also made it clear his strategy is to get an agreement with Senate Republicans he hopes the House GOP will accept. “We want to get the Senate to come to an agreement first,” he said.
While the supplemental bill with international military aid is a separate negotiation than the annual spending bills that need to be passed by Jan. 19, a delay in getting to agreement on the first could lead to the talks getting combined as the government edges nearer to a shutdown.
There is an appetite among House Republicans to shut down the government as at least a sign of seriousness about stopping illegal immigration. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a member of the rightwing House Freedom Caucus, posted on social media, “Congress must refuse to fund this corrupt administration unless the border is restored. #HR2.”
The agencies funded only through Jan. 19 include the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Energy, Transportation, Treasury, as well as Housing and Urban Development.
In wrapping up his answer about whether House Republicans were willing to vote to shut down the government if there were no border changes, Johnson reiterated they want a secure border and to cut spending outside of the Pentagon.
“Too early to prejudge any of that, but I’ll tell you we’re resolved on those priorities,” he said.