WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday passed a short-term spending bill that would keep the government open into early next year but deny President Donald Trump the money he wanted for his border wall.
Senators passed the measure, which would keep government running through Feb. 8, by voice vote without a roll call. The House is also expected to move before Friday's deadline, when funding for a portion of the government expires. Leaders from both parties have expressed support for the bill.
The outcome would temporarily break an impasse that threatened to shut down large portions of the government this weekend and send hundreds of thousands of federal workers home without pay just before Christmas.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will remain in session today. "We have to see what the House does," he said.
Trump has signaled his support for the plan but "can change his mind if he wants to," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
"I don't believe the leader would bring it up if he hadn't had some assurance that the president would sign," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "But you never know."
A senior White House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's position, said the plan is for Trump to sign the temporary funding bill.
That would represent a defeat for Trump on his signature issue, the U.S.-Mexico border wall that he long insisted Mexico would pay for but has demanded $5 billion in taxpayer money to fund. And it's an abandonment of his stance from a week ago, when he said he would be "proud" to shut down the government to get his wall money.
Trump continued to assert over Twitter on Wednesday that the wall would be built, insisting that Mexico will pay for it indirectly via the renegotiated North America trade deal and that the military would build it.
The legality of such an approach is in question, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., insisted that Democrats would not let it happen.
McConnell blamed the outcome on Democrats after they turned down a GOP offer Tuesday that would have provided $1.6 billion for border barriers and another $1 billion for Trump to spend on other immigration priorities.
"Faced with this intransigence -- with Democrats' failure to take our borders seriously -- Republicans will continue to fulfill our duty to govern," McConnell said. "That's why we will soon take up a simple measure that will continue government funding into February: so we can continue this vital debate after the new Congress has convened."
Schumer spoke on the floor shortly thereafter, saying: "I'm glad the leader thinks the government should not shut down over the president's demand for a wall."
"Shutting down the government before Christmas is a terrible idea, one of the worst to come down the pike in a very long time," he added.
Some House Democrats were frustrated that they would again have to confront the funding issue just two months into their new majority, instead of focusing on a new agenda.
In a statement, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, condemned the Republican majority for having "chosen to kick the can down the road for a third time," referring to two brief shutdowns earlier this year. She vowed to pass spending legislation that does not fund the border wall.
At issue is money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.
The stopgap measure would approve government funding at existing levels for those departments, without a boost for the border. It would include a temporary extension of a national flood insurance program, the Violence Against Women Act and other measures.
Voting was delayed until late Wednesday as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, mostly from the West, sought to include language reauthorizing a popular program that supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects. The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired Sept. 30, and they've been trying to extend it, but no agreement was reached and talks will continue.
At one point late in the late evening, senators broke out in a round of Christmas carols from a corner of the chamber. A few moments later, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., gaveled a procedural vote closed by suggesting "Rudolph" had voted present.
It was unclear how many House members would return to Washington for votes after Republicans lost the majority in the midterm election. Some 70 members missed Wednesday's session, almost as many Democrats as Republicans.
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, who is on track to become speaker when Democrats take control Jan. 3, signaled support for ensuring funding.
"Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January," Pelosi said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that "One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!" In another tweet, he sought to make the case that because of "large scale criminal and drug inflow" the military would be justified in building a border wall.
During a television appearance before McConnell announced the proposed deal Wednesday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted that Trump had not softened his stance on the wall but said the White House wanted to see what Congress would produce.
"The president has said he's willing to do what he has to do to get that border security, including a government shutdown," she said on Fox News' Fox & Friends. "Now we'll see what the Senate and the House, what they come together and present to the president. We don't know what's going to make it to his desk."
She said that while Congress had worked successfully with Trump on other issues, lawmakers seemed to be "walking away" on border security.
She also reiterated the White House's view that it could redirect money from other areas, a strategy that has limits given congressional powers over appropriations.
"There are other ways for him to get that money," Conway said. "He's not going to back down."
Multiple budget experts said it would be illegal for Trump to take money from the Pentagon and redirect it toward the construction of a wall. At a minimum, such a change would require the approval of at least four congressional committees, two of which will be controlled by Democrats in two weeks.
"If Congress did not appropriate money to build a wall, you cannot just use other unrelated appropriations to do that," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Schumer said Democrats would not allow it to happen.
"Let me be very clear. The administration cannot reprogram funds appropriated by Congress for the full wall without our assent," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "To do so would violate Congress' Article One powers. They cannot do it on their own, and the House and Senate will not approve a wall from reprogrammed funds or anything else. It won't happen."
Congress has passed several spending bills in the past year that allowed the administration to repair and rebuild existing portions of border walls and even add some new barriers, but these projects have fallen far short of the scope Trump sought during the campaign.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Wednesday on Fox News that Trump could use his State of the Union address late in January to make his case for the wall, as well as to hammer Democrats for blocking funding for it.
"If the negotiation is going to go until February, one of the good things about that is the State of the Union will be right before that next funding resolution, which means the president has a real good opportunity to go to the country, make a case at the State of the Union for why Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are on the wrong side of this issue, not wanting to keep our country safe, while the president is fighting to build the wall," Scalise said.
Information for this article was contributed by Erica Werner, John Wagner, Damian Paletta, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post; by Emily Cochrane of The New York Times; and by Lisa Mascaro, Matthew Daly, Catherine Lucey and Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press.
In this June 19, 2018 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
A Section on 12/20/2018
Print Headline: Senate backs stopgap deal on spending; measure headed to House lacks Trump’s wall funding