Capitol Hill is unprepared for the threat, as members of the House and Senate are scattering across the country as Congress heads into a recess
I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
President Donald Trump yanked the government back to the brink of a shutdown on Friday morning with a tweet threatening “a VETO” of a $1.3 trillion spending bill that Congress had cleared just hours earlier.
Trump’s declaration of a possible veto — citing the spending bill’s lack of full funding for his border wall and attention to undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — comes as many lawmakers who would have to override his rejection or pass a stopgap funding measure are already on the way out of Washington for a two-week recess.
The president’s top aides said Thursday he would sign the bill, but his threat was a reminder that only Trump truly knows what the White House is doing at any time.
Trump’s tweet caught many in the West Wing and on Capitol Hill by surprise, sending them scrambling to determine how serious he is about vetoing the bill, while White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added a Friday afternoon briefing. Illustrating the degree to which Trump had upended his own staff once again, one West Wing official said on Friday morning that the likelihood of a shutdown is “extremely high.”
There remains hope in the White House that the defense community, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis — who is slated to meet with Trump on Friday — could convince Trump that whatever stopgap spending agreement results from a shutdown threat would not deliver the high level of defense spending provided by the omnibus.
But Trump’s frustration is severe, the West Wing official said. The president has been concerned by conservative outcry on Fox News, about the amount provided for the border wall and interior enforcement and the way in which Amtrak funding is being framed as a victory for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
In fact, both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill had joined White House aides on Thursday in touting gains for both parties in the spending deal, which the Senate approved on a 65-32 vote after midnight on Friday morning.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had acknowledged late Thursday that “begging, pleading and cajoling” were required in order to assuage his members’ concerns with the 2,200-plus-page spending bill, which keeps the government funded through September.
“I must say, after a long and intense day of successful discussions, I’m relieved rather than depressed we might be able to actually finish tonight,” McConnell said Thursday night.
Trump’s tweet, if he follows through, would puncture that relief among congressional GOP leaders who thought they had secured Trump’s support. It could take several days to scramble Congress back into session; some lawmakers were scheduled to be overseas starting Friday.
Since lawmakers had already left town, GOP lawmakers and aides were left burning up the phone lines of their leadership and West Wing contacts to try to determine what exactly was going on. Legislative aides, who’d expected to have a quiet Friday on the Hill, hustled to try to answer their bosses’ questions about whether Trump was serious.
“I don’t know if anyone has figured out if he’s serious or if he’s just blowing steam and needs [Speaker] Paul Ryan [R-Wis.] to talk him off the cliff,” said one senior Republican aide swarmed with calls from worried lawmakers just after the Trump tweet.
Democrats, on the other hand, argued that they stand to gain if Trump’s fit of pique prompted a veto that sent their GOP counterparts back to the negotiating table.
“One of two things will happen,” a senior Democratic aide said. “He either signs the bill by the end of the day, or he ends up signing a bill he likes even less after Republicans have to renegotiate with Dems to get out of a shutdown.”
“Ask Republicans. It’s their problem,” another senior Democratic aide said.
Trump’s Schumer-related frustrations stem from the president’s long-running resistance to the multi-billion-dollar Gateway infrastructure project in their shared home state of New York. The president had previously threatened to veto the spending bill if Gateway funding was included; the final agreement included general Amtrak spending that could ultimately be used on the project — a longtime goal of the Senate minority leader’s.
But fiscal conservatives in Congress who had opposed the spending package urged Trump to follow through with the veto threat, concerned over the bill’s high price tag bloating the debt.
“Please do, Mr. President. I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus. Totally irresponsible,” tweeted Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Trump’s frustrations with the bill were well-known in the White House, but West Wing aides and members of Congress believed they had convinced the president to go along with the measure.
The White House released a statement Thursday saying the administration supports passage of the bill and it declared in a separate statement that the legislation is a “win for the American people.”
“Let’s cut right to the chase. Is the president going to sign the bill? Yes. Why? Because it funds his priorities,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday, while acknowledging the final product was imperfect.