House votes to avert federal shutdown

Senate chances dim

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2017, file photo, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., heads to a meeting at the Capitol in Washington. Key senators and farm groups are trying to fix a provision in the federal tax overhaul that gave an unexpected tax break to farmers who sell their crops to cooperatives instead of private buyers. The provision from Thune and John Hoeven, R-N.D., surfaced in the final days of the debate over the tax bill, which President Donald Trump signed last month. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON — A divided House on Thursday passed an eleventh-hour plan to keep the government running. But the GOP-written measure faced gloomy prospects in the Senate, and it remained unclear whether lawmakers would be able to find a way to keep federal offices open past a Friday night deadline.

The House voted by a near party-line 230-197 vote to approve the legislation, which would keep agency doors open and hundreds of thousands of federal employees at work through Feb. 16. The measure is designed to give White House and congressional bargainers more time to work through disputes on immigration and the budget that they’ve tangled over for months.

House passage was assured after the House Freedom Caucus reached an accord with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The leader of the hard-right group, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Ryan promised future votes on extra defense spending and on a conservative, restrictive immigration bill, though a source familiar with the discussion said Ryan didn’t guarantee an immigration vote. That person was not authorized to speak publicly about the private negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Just 11 Republicans, mostly conservatives and a pair of moderate Hispanic lawmakers, opposed the measure. Six Democrats, a mix of Hispanic and moderate legislators, backed the bill.

But most Senate Democrats and some Republicans were expected to vote no in that chamber, probably Friday. Democrats were hoping to spur slow-moving talks on protecting young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally from deportation. A handful of Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were pressing for swifter action on immigration and a long-sought Pentagon spending boost.

Senate rejection would leave the pathway ahead uncertain with only one guarantee: finger-pointing by both parties, which began as that chamber debated the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of a “fixation on illegal immigration,” which he said “has them threatening to filibuster spending for the whole government.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who’s tried using opposition to the bill as leverage to prod immigration negotiations, called for a plan to finance government for just a few days, and said party leaders should try to quickly reach an agreement. He said that should be done with or without President Donald Trump, who initially expressed support for a bipartisan effort to address the issue, only to oppose one proposed by several senators.

“How can you negotiate with the president, who has to sign the legislation, is like a sphinx on this issue, or says one thing one day and one thing the next?” Schumer asked.

The GOP controls the Senate 51-49 and will need substantial Democratic backing to reach 60 — the number needed to end Democratic delaying tactics. Republicans were all but daring Democrats to scuttle the bill and force a shutdown because of immigration, which they said would hurt Democratic senators seeking re-election in 10 states that Trump carried in 2016.

“Senator Schumer, do not shut down the federal government,” said Ryan, adding, “It is risky. It is reckless. And it is wrong.”

Underscoring the political stakes, McConnell warned GOP senators in an email obtained by The Associated Press that voting against the measure “plays right into Democrats hand” — presumably because it would dilute the argument that Democrats killed the legislation.

Democrats said voters would fault Republicans because they control Congress and the White House. They also noted that Trump rejected a proposed bipartisan deal among a handful of senators that would have resolved the conflict over how to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

“You have the leverage. Get this done,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said about Republicans.

Trump himself weighed in from Pennsylvania, where he flew to help a GOP candidate in a special congressional election.

“I really believe the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts because they’re doing so well,” he said.