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Washington

GOP hurtles toward shutdown with no plan as Congress takes break

Nancy Pelosi, left, Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer.

House Republican leaders sent their members home for a six-day break Thursday without revealing any plan to avoid a looming government shutdown.

In Paul Ryan's waning days as House speaker, leaders are wavering about whether to try to pass a spending bill with the $5 billion President Donald Trump is demanding for his wall at the Mexican border. Senate Republicans also haven't announced any plan to fund the government.

At one point, third-ranking House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana said Thursday the House would "move a bill" containing the $5 billion. But minutes later, second-ranking GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California responded to a reporters' question, "I didn't hear him say that" and then added, "Interesting."

Speaking on the House floor, Mr. McCarthy said plans for next week were "fluid and subject to change." He said lawmakers likely would be asked to return to Washington on Wednesday evening.

Funding for some agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, is set to run out after Dec. 21, and Trump says he'll block any bill funding those agencies unless he gets the money for the wall. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in line to become speaker in January, had a contentious meeting Tuesday with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, where the president said he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security."

House Appropriations members Robert Aderholt of Alabama, chairman of the subcommittee on agriculture, Steve Womack of Arkansas and Tom Rooney of Florida said Thursday no plan to avoid a shutdown has been presented to the rank and file.

Mr. Schumer insisted Thursday that Democrats won't provide the border funds, but that they're ready to pass spending bills to keep government agencies open.

President's fault

"If we wind up with a shutdown, it will be entirely the president's fault," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor.

"I want to be crystal clear: There will be no additional appropriations to pay for the border wall. It's done," he said.

Ms. Pelosi said Thursday that continuing funding at current levels is the "livelier prospect" for a resolution of the standoff. She continued to criticize Mr. Trump for his willingness to let part of the government shut down to press his demand for border wall funding.

"It's a drastic thing for the president to do," she told reporters.

If there's no agreement a shutdown could go on until January when Congress returns from its holiday recess, she said.

Ms. Pelosi told the president during Tuesday's meeting that House Republicans don't even have the votes to pass a bill with the $5 billion. The GOP will lose its House majority status Jan. 3, and a number of members who are retiring, were defeated or won other offices haven't been showing up for votes.

Mr. Schumer taunted Trump on Thursday over the president's Twitter comment hours earlier that, "One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall" through savings on the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

"Mr. President, if you say Mexico will pay for the wall through NAFTA, which they won't, then I guess we don't have to," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Aderholt, who represents a district where Mr. Trump won by an overwhelming margin, said he would support a Republican-only spending bill but it's unclear it would pass.

'Paramount issue'

"For people in my district border security is the paramount issue," Mr. Aderholt said. "I know that is not true in every district."

Some moderate House Republicans said they would consider voting for the $5 billion in wall money if it moves the process along.

"It's not my first choice but I would consider it," said retiring New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo. "I didn't come to Washington to ever shut the government down."

GOP conservatives are urging leaders to bring forward a bill with the $5 billion as soon as possible and said they're disappointed to be leaving Washington without voting on it.

"I wish we were doing it now rather than going home," said Georgia Rep. Austin Scott.

Anti-immigration hardliner Steve King, R-Iowa, said every day that goes by makes it more certain that Ms. Pelosi's new Democratic majority will pass the next spending bill and will use that leverage to insert Democratic priorities in January.

'A bad thing'

"That's a bad thing," Mr. King said. "We should act now while we still have the majority."

In the Senate, the picture is no clearer. Asked what the next step is, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Appropriations Committee, just shrugged and laughed.

About 75% of the government's $1.2 trillion fiscal 2019 operating budget is already funded, so the effects of a shutdown would be limited.

Agencies that would be affected include Homeland Security, though many of its law enforcement agents would remain on the job because they're considered essential. National parks would remain open but most employees who maintain them would be sent home. The Securities and Exchange Commission would halt new investigations except where needed to protect property. The Defense Department is funded and would operate normally.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said Wednesday he didn't see any clear path to a resolution.

"Put me down as puzzled. I don't see the strategy," Mr. Cornyn said. "I don't see the end game."