Congressional Leaders Visit The White House Seeking To Avert A Government Shutdown

Dec 7, 2017
Originally published on December 7, 2017 6:38 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump today welcomed Congress's top Democrats and Republicans to the White House. They are trying to work out a deal to keep the government open.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group. It's a well-knit-together group of people, and we hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen.

KELLY: This evening, Congress passed a bill to fund the government for another two weeks. Now that sets up a new showdown just a few days before Christmas. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us from the Capitol. Hey there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So we heard the president talking about how friendly and unified this is. They're all on the same page - worth pointing out that is a big departure from where things stood yesterday at this time.

SNELL: Yeah. Yesterday the president was saying that Democrats were threatening a government shutdown over immigration. And so things do seem to be getting a little bit better. There is broad agreement on the idea that they need to pass this two-week spending bill. Real question is what happens after that. This morning, House Minority Leader Pelosi said Democrats have a list of demands they want to have in exchange for keeping the government open. Here's what she said.

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NANCY PELOSI: Democrats are not willing to shut government down, no.

KELLY: OK, so they're not willing to shut the government down, she says, but they also have this list of demands. What's on it?

SNELL: Yeah. So first at the top of their list is the spending side. They want to make sure that military spending increases are at the same level as domestic spending increases. Democrats don't disagree with Republicans that military spending should go up. It's something that was discussed in the meeting with Trump, as far as we can tell. Dems say, sure, that's just fine. Just make sure it's dollar-for-dollar increases on domestic programs.

They also want to see some permanent protections for the some 700,000 people who were brought to the country as children and are here now illegally. We call those DREAMers. They want to get those DREAMer protections passed immediately before the year ends. There's also a grab bag of other items like reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program that's going to run out of money at the end of the month.

KELLY: That sounds like a lot.

SNELL: (Laughter).

KELLY: Even if they manage to keep the government from shutting down tomorrow, they're giving themselves two more weeks to get all of that sorted out.

SNELL: Yeah, and it's probably going to be hard to do all of that. House Speaker Paul Ryan said today he thinks they're going to need to get a broad agreement on spending now and then pass a big spending bill in January. So that means there could be a bunch of smaller deals this month to make sure everyone's satisfied. Oh, and they also have to pass the tax bill that...

KELLY: Oh, yeah, that.

SNELL: (Laughter) That tax bill. The House and Senate have voted to start negotiations on that, and they hope to get a full tax bill passed and ready for the president to sign in the next two weeks.

KELLY: You know, just to take a step back here, Kelsey, we got used to Congress running into these crisis moments on a regular basis when President Obama was in the White House - so a Democrat in the White House, but Republicans controlled Congress. Now Republicans controlling both branches of government and the White House - what's their explanation for why this keeps happening?

SNELL: Well, they have a couple of answers. The first one is that over in the Senate, Democrats are needed to pass just about any kind of legislation. The only exception was the tax bill, and it would have been an exception for the health care bill. Also, Republicans are still really badly divided in the House, and it - so it's not just a spending problem. We saw the divisions play out over health care and taxes, too, and it's just an ongoing fight that they're still working out.

KELLY: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell reporting on drama unfolding on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue today. Kelsey, thanks very much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.