House Speaker Paul Ryan emerged from a last-minute White House meeting Thursday between President Donald Trump and House Republicans to say that the president told them he will refuse to sign a stopgap funding bill as it’s currently written — a measure that would avert a shutdown before a Friday midnight deadline.
Ryan told reporters that he and other GOP leaders were going back to try to add more border security funding to the legislation.
“The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came over from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security, so what we’re gonna do is go back to the House and work with our members,” Ryan, R-Wis., said. “We want to keep the government open but we also want to see an agreement that protects the border.”
Trump had called the meeting on short notice amid criticism that he was “softening” on a key campaign promise.
“The president said what the Senate sent over is just kicking the can down the road,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “We want to solve this problem. We want to make sure we keep the government open and we’re gonna work to make sure we have that done.”
Earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced, “At this moment, the President does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall. The President is continuing to weigh his options.”
Besides Ryan and McCarthy, ABC News confirmed that Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio were at the White House meeting.
Ryan declined to comment as he left the Capitol late Thursday morning and returned to the Capitol without engaging reporters. Prior to the meeting, Scalise said he was hopeful that Republicans would pass a bill that meets the president’s border wall demand.
“We’re talking to the president about the best way to get the wall funded with a bill that actually funds the wall and funds the other agencies of government that expire on Friday,” Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said as he left the Capitol. “We wanna get the $5 billion to secure our border, and let the president have the tools he needs to keep this country safe.”
Earlier Thursday morning, the spending bill appeared to be sailing towards passage. Late Wednesday, the Senate passed a measure by unanimous consent to extend current levels of government spending until Feb. 8, buying lawmakers time to enjoy the holidays and a few more weeks to negotiate a long-term deal.
The House was poised to act on the bill and kick the funding fight down the road – members’ bags are packed, their tickets home booked for tonight – but then conservatives made a move to blow it all up – urging the president to veto the stop-gap measure.
“This is a fumble, and we need to make sure that the president stays firm,” Meadows, of North Carolina, said, as his caucus insisted the short-term deal include the Trump’s request for $5 billion for his border wall.
“He’s promised not once, not twice, but three different times that he would get border wall funding, and here we are about to punt,” Meadows complained.
With Democrats about to take majority control of the House, conservatives at the Capitol realize this is their last best chance to get any funding for the wall, putting intense pressure on Trump, who is already being hammered by his far-right base for caving on his signature campaign pledge.
So what are the options here?
Despite the objections from the Freedom Caucus, there did not appear to be enough votes here to block the spending bill in the House. Though it is possible Republicans could look to take another vote on a stand-alone measure to fund the wall that would allow the detractors an off-ramp to voice their support for wall funding and displeasure with the continuing resolution.
Given that the continuing resolution is likely to pass, a shutdown would come squarely down to the president and his decision to veto or sign the bill. A shutdown is not likely to bring the president any closer to getting the money he wants for his wall. Democrats are not budging.