Government shutdown threat looms over Capitol Hill’s Christmas season

You'll forgive lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and Congressional journalists for lacking tidings of comfort and joy. They're all too familiar with various phantasms depicting Christmas past, Christmas present and, yes, Christmas future on Capitol Hill. Although it's been said many times, many ways, December can be pretty wretched in Congress. Andy Williams pretty much nailed … Continue reading “Government shutdown threat looms over Capitol Hill’s Christmas season”

You'll forgive lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides and Congressional journalists for lacking tidings of comfort and joy.

They're all too familiar with various phantasms depicting Christmas past, Christmas present and, yes, Christmas future on Capitol Hill.

Although it's been said many times, many ways, December can be pretty wretched in Congress.

Andy Williams pretty much nailed it when he sang about "scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."

Sprints to renew tax breaks before the calendar flips to January. A Christmas Eve day vote on ObamaCare. Efforts to avert government shutdowns. Brawls over hurricane relief. A scrap over the "payroll tax" in 2011. The "fiscal cliff" of 2012 and 2013 was epic. Lawmakers fought up until Christmas, took a break and came a-wassailing back to Washington to battle through New Year's Day. Vice President Joe Biden rushed to the Capitol to negotiate on New Year’s Eve 2012 at around 8:30 pm and the Senate began voting at around 2 in the morning on Jan. 1, 2013.

December crises emerge with such regularity that the ox and lamb could almost keep time to the likelihood of Congressional combat this time of year.

Manchin: No reason to shut down government over wall funding

Sen. Joe Manchin weighs in on the possibility of a government shutdown over funding for the border wall.

If you blinked Thursday afternoon, you would have missed the House and Senate approving a stopgap spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown this weekend. The new deadline is 11:59:59 pm on Dec. 21.

This is the second interim spending bill, known as a "CR" for "Continuing Resolution," this fiscal year.

On the second day of Christmas, someone's true love bequeathed them two turtle doves. In Congress, it's unclear what you get for the second CR in a fiscal year. And if there is a government shutdown, it’s certain that the ten lords a-leaping will be among those furloughed.

Here's where we stand:

Congress and President Trump forged an agreement in September on five of the 12 annual appropriations bills. That left seven appropriations bills unfinished. The most significant was the Homeland Security Appropriations measure, which would potentially cover money for the border wall.

Democrats think President Trump's insistence on a border wall is as preposterous as Gayla Peevey demanding a hippopotamus for Christmas. Most Congressional Republicans and the President are dug in on this issue. This could be the last chance GOPers have to fund the wall, since Democrats take control of the House in January. So for now, Republicans are channeling the mantra that they "won't go until we get some."

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., says it would be "foolish to shut down the government" and "stupid not to find a solution" to this standoff. But Kennedy knows exactly where Trump stands.

"I don't think [the President's] kidding. I think he's prepared to shut the government down," opined Kennedy.

"If President Trump wants to throw a temper tantrum and shut down the government over Christmas over the wall, that's his decision," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday.

Any package to fund the government requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans currently control 51 seats. That's why they need the support of at least nine Democrats. It's generally thought that Senate Democrats may be willing to cave on some funding for the wall. But it’s a different story in the House.

Few if any House Democrats would vote for any plan to fund the government if it includes wall money. That means House Republicans, in the majority for the moment, could be called upon to advance a spending bill to run the government, and presumably fund the wall, by themselves.

"We've got to secure our border,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the future chair of the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House GOP hierarchy. "The fact that we have Democrats refusing to allocate resources to do that, well, the American people won't be happy."

But the problem with border wall funding may not lie with Democrats but Republicans. Multiple House GOP sources told Fox News that Republicans lack the votes to pass any spending bill on their own with or without wall funding. The math doesn't work on the GOP side of the aisle. Over the summer, the House twice rejected bills to fully fund the wall.

Here's the other problem. Fox News is told there are a number of defeated or retiring House Republicans who don't intend to come back to Washington so close to Christmas. In some ways, a vote just before the Dec. 21 deadline could actually help avert another shutdown if attendance dwindles. The outcome may hinge on who shows up.

Also, some conservatives privately concede they'd like a shutdown to hamstring Democrats as they assume control of the House in January.

"If I were the president, I would stick with it," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about the push for wall money. "I've always thought more wall funding is necessary. And we've got to do something with the DACA recipients. Maybe if you marry those two up [Trump] could end the year on a high note."


When asked if she would accept some wall funding in exchange for a DACA deal, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., replied with an emphatic "no." Pelosi contends that the border wall and a DACA fix are "two different subjects" and advocates approving individual versions of six of the spending bills and then okaying a CR until Sept. 30, 2019 (the end of the fiscal year) for the Department of Homeland Security.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., took a dim view of Pelosi's proposal.

"I believe the best route is to keep the seven (appropriations bills) together," said Shelby.

This exercise also poses a challenge for the House Republican leadership. Some conservatives are sure to be apoplectic if the GOP brass accepts anything short of full wall funding. That grants those conservatives the chance to drive a wedge between Republicans as to who is fighting the hardest for the wall and serving as a rearguard for Trump. Some Republicans may even relish a fight with their leaders over the wall.


What's remarkable at this stage of the appropriations process is the lack of information. No one is even sure who is driving the sleigh. Is it outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., – who is about to become House Minority Leader McCarthy? Prospective House Speaker Pelosi? (Just a reminder. she doesn't quite have the required number of votes to become Speaker in January nailed down yet.) Retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.?

So prepare yourself for Christmas at the Capitol.

And if there's a government shutdown on Dec. 22, that's the nightmare before Christmas.

Pelosi’s political power put to test: Would-be speaker navigates storm of restless Dems

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces House Democrats Wednesday in a test of her political power.

The lead-up to Wednesday’s internal vote for speaker has been marked by heavily covered intra-party squabbles. A swath of vocal Democrats – ranging from Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., to Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., to Tim Ryan, D-Ohio – want someone else.

But despite the drama, Democrats will likely vote to tap Pelosi as their choice for speaker. The bigger test comes when the new Congress starts in January, and the California Democrat must win a floor vote – from members of both parties, Republicans and anti-Nancy freshman Democrats among them.

Yet no other Democrat, as of now, is challenging Pelosi for the slot. And some Democrats who vowed to oppose her have since softened that position.

“Know your power,” Pelosi often says, the title of her 2008 book.

Pelosi usually does. No one is as talented a vote counter as the San Francisco Democrat, who is able to gauge precisely where the political barometer stands. Moreover, Pelosi is known to have said that political power is not granted. It is taken.

And so, we will watch as Nancy Pelosi walks this prospective narrow path to power this week. She doesn’t have the speakership nailed down just yet. But her return to power is more advanced than where it stood just a few days ago.

All successful political leaders “know their power” and discern where they stand with their constituencies.


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., banked political power for years until he helped engineer a return to the majority by Republicans in 1994. House Republicans rewarded Gingrich with the speakership. But Gingrich’s power quickly waned. As Pelosi says, “know your power.” Gingrich realized he may face an insurrection in 1998 after the GOP nearly lost control of the House. Gingrich stepped aside as speaker.

Status and position don’t always reflect where power resides on Capitol Hill. The late Sen. Richard Russell, D-Ga., never held the positions of Senate majority or minority leader. The Senate moved through a period of relatively weak majority leaders, because, toiling behind the scenes was Richard Russell. Russell’s command of the Senate was such that he didn’t need to become majority or minority leader. Russell “knew” his power. Why bother with the responsibility if you possess the political juice you need?

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., didn’t have the votes to succeed former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker in 2015. McCarthy unexpectedly dropped his bid just minutes before an internal House Republican Conference vote to tap the next speaker. McCarthy “knew his power.”

Meantime, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., claimed for years he had little interest in becoming speaker. Ryan even published a statement moments after McCarthy stepped aside, expressing he had no intention in running for speaker.

But over a two-week period, GOP colleagues cajoled Ryan to seek the speakership. Ryan only truly “knew” his power until Republican colleagues plowed the road for him – and the Wisconsin Republican realized there was no one else who could ever command the votes on the floor.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., succeeded former Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., when the latter retired in early 2017. Reid announced his intentions to step aside about a year-and-a-half prior. There was a brief debate about whether longtime Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., might attempt to succeed Reid. But it was just a conversation. Schumer “knew his power” and leapfrogged Durbin, nailing down his support months ahead of the leadership election.

Want to know why no one is formally challenging Pelosi; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in his bid for majority leader; and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., in his quest for majority whip? Very simple. Rank-and-file House Democrats also “know” their power.” It’s limited. Someone would challenge one or all three of the House’s top Democrats if there was a pathway to prevail. But there isn’t anyone lined up right now. They know they’d lose.

The path to power includes knowing when to challenge someone – and when not to do so.

House Republicans bounced John Boehner from the fourth-highest GOP leadership post in 1998. Many of Boehner’s acolytes encouraged him to run to succeed former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, when he retried a few years later. But the time wasn’t right for Boehner. Then former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, found himself in ethical and criminal trouble and resigned. Boehner, then-House Majority Whip and current Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and former Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., all ran to succeed DeLay. Boehner prevailed over Blunt in an upset and later matriculated to the speakership.


Know your power.

But it was never guaranteed that Boehner would get a shot to run for leader once he was shown the door in late 1998.

There is some fortune involved in all of this.

By the same token, Boehner also knew his power when he announced his resignation in the fall of 2015. Boehner had been trying to escape Congress for a couple of years. But former House majority leader and likely Boehner successor Eric Cantor, R-Va., unexpectedly lost his primary in 2014. House Freedom Caucus members began making noise about “no confidence” votes for Boehner – even though no immediate successor existed. So Boehner cashed it in, briefly leaving a power vacuum in the House.

It’s still not clear precisely how Pelosi scores an outright majority of all House members voting on the floor for speaker on Jan. 3. Barring unforeseen circumstances, she’ll easily win the Democratic Caucus election Wednesday. That vote will also serve as a political rain gauge to show how many votes Pelosi must commandeer before January to win the speakership … and know her power.

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.