Trump Signs Stopgap to Avert Christmas Shutdown

President, lawmakers punt tough decisions into late January

Protesters, mostly federal workers, hold up signs at the Capitol in October 2013 urging Congress to end a government shutdown. Congress and President Donald Trump averted another one this week by agreeing on another short-term continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There will be no government shutdown on Christmas Day.

With just more than 12 hours to spare, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a four-week government funding bill into law. It sets up a potentially bruising battle between Republicans and Democrats over a slew of hot-button issues next month.

Trump’s signature, applied just before he was scheduled to leave the White House for an 11-day holiday vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida, extends government funding until Jan. 19.

Neither party wanted the government to be shuttered — even partially — over the holidays. A big reason why: Both feared political backlash heading into a midterm election year during which the House and Senate are both up for grabs.

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“Nobody wins in a government shutdown,” said Elaine Kamarck, a former Clinton White House official now with the Brookings Institution. “I think the days of the shutdown as a political weapon are over.”

Trump and senior White House officials mostly stayed out of the funding debate this week, happy to instead focus on the GOP tax bill while Republicans and Democrats battled to keep the federal lights on. The White House even opted against issuing a statement after the Senate passed the stopgap Thursday evening.

But the president’s top aides made clear he opposed shutting down the government. Lawmakers were able to send him the spending measure with relatively little drama after House Republicans abandoned plans to attach a full-year Pentagon appropriations bill. The CR also includes temporary extensions to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, community health centers, care for veterans and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

All of those programs will again be part of what are expected to be tough negotiations next month. Other politically prickly matters are expected to come up in the spending debate, including Democrats’ demands that Republicans and the White House treat defense and domestic spending the same in funding the rest of the fiscal year.

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated that after weeks of talks there still is no deal on raising spending caps. She repeated her recent talking point about a GOP offer for $54 billion in additional fiscal 2018 defense spending and $37 billion for domestic programs will not suffice.

“That $17 billion [difference] is important because it would be to address the opioid epidemic,” she said.

Pelosi and other Democrats had vowed to keep Congress in Washington over the Christmas weekend — possibly during a shutdown — unless Trump and Republicans addressed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the president has announced he will nix. Republicans refused, arguing the matter will be addressed early next year.

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And while Senate Democrats could have blocked the measure, they went along with an expedited passage Thursday night.

“Democrats seem to fear the outside chance that they would be held responsible for a shutdown over the holidays,” said Steve Bell, a former senior Senate staffer now with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“They also seem worried that Donald Trump would be able to pin it on them,” Bell said. “They know he would go all out — on social media and in front of the TV cameras — to blame the whole thing on them.”

Republicans also feared a shutdown would come back to bite them, since they control the House, Senate and White House. What’s more, both Kamarck and Bell said, Republicans typically are blamed by most voters whenever the government ceases operations.

Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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