Republican leaders are scrambling to appease hardline conservatives to avoid a government shutdown

  • Congressional negotiations on legislation to avoid a government shutdown have hit stumbling blocks in recent days.
  • The conservative House Freedom Caucus has grown frustrated with GOP leadership’s plan for the negotiations.
  • Congress is facing a Friday deadline to avoid a shutdown.

Congressional negotiations on averting a partial shutdown of the federal government are starting to look a lot more difficult.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is threatening to hold up a short-term extension of the federal government’s funding, while Democrats continue to press for their own legislative goals to be included. The deadline for a shutdown looms on December 8.

President Donald Trump said that the shutdown “could happen” during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, blaming Democrats for any potential impasse.

GOP leadership in the House and Senate want to pass a bill that would push that deadline to December 22 to provide more time for negotiations with Democrats, but the Freedom Caucus wants to move it to December 30.

“There’s a whole lot more pressure to get home for Christmas than there is for New Year’s,” Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said on Monday.

The Freedom Caucus’ thinking is that the pressure means Republicans are likelier to sign onto a worse deal, but there are signs the demands around the deadline are softening.

Meadows told Business Insider on Wednesday morning that he met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, with signs pointing to a potential truce on the December 30 deadline.

“It’s certainly still on the table,” Meadows said. “I don’t know that December 30 deadline is much the issue now as it is about breaking this defence and non-defence wall.”

There is a statutory link between defence and non-defence spending, but conservatives want large changes in military funding without corresponding changes to non-defence spending.

The hardline conservative group is also setting out a list of demands for the shutdown negotiations that could complicate the process for leaders.

The group said it would not vote for any spending bill that includes a codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily shields from deportation undocumented people who came to the US as minors.

“I think we’ve been very clear: There is no scenario where we believe that DACA should be attached to spending,” Meadows said during a town-hall meeting with Freedom Caucus members last week.

GOP leadership also appears to be on board with playing hardball on the program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it would be “ridiculous” to have a shutdown over DACA, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said there was “no way” it would be in a funding bill.

Democrats, on the other hand, have said they will not accept a bill without it.

The demands led the Freedom Caucus on Monday to hold up a vote on moving the GOP’s massive tax bill to a conference committee for more than an hour.

Democrats are seizing on the uncertainty to try to create leverage in the negotiations and highlight what they are painting as chaos among the opposition.

“The Freedom Caucus held up an unrelated vote on the tax bill because they were unsatisfied with the Republican leadership’s plan to keep the government open,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech on Tuesday. “If we’re going to solve all the problems that confront us before the end of the year, House leaders cannot let the Freedom Caucus – a small band of hard-right, reactionary, conservatives – run the show.”

Ryan has not indicated whether the deadline in the short-term extension bill will be December 22 or 30.

Congressional leaders including McConnell, Ryan, Schumer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will head to the White House on Thursday to meet with President Donald Trump and continue negotiations on a funding bill.

Joe Perticone contributed reporting.

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