WASHINGTON — The House passed a stopgap measure Thursday night to fund the government that includes $5 billion for a border wall sought by President Donald Trump. The bill is expected to be rejected in the Senate, and does little to prevent a shutdown on Saturday.
The vote of 217 to 185 on Thursday night puts the House at odds with the Senate, which on Wednesday night passed a funding bill that does not include border wall money.
The Senate will now have to consider the House version before midnight Friday to avert a partial government shutdown, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled to members to be ready for a possible vote on Friday at noon.
Democrats, however, will most certainly block the measure in the Senate. With 60 votes needed to advance an appropriations bill to a final vote, Republican senators need Democratic votes to make it over that threshold.
If and when the Senate rejects the House measure, it’s unclear how House GOP leaders plan to proceed. Their only viable options on Friday are either to pass the so-called “clean” spending bill already passed by the Senate or to let the government shut down as Trump recently said he would be “proud” to do.
The House’s approval of billions for border security comes after Trump said Thursday he would not sign a short-term spending bill that did not include such funding.
“Any measure that funds the government has to include border security — not for political purposes, but for our country,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments came after an emergency meeting earlier Thursday at the White House with top House GOP leaders and several conservatives, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, a former Freedom Caucus chairman.
The House’s continuing resolution, which would fund the government until Feb. 8, also includes $8 billion for disaster relief.
The House vote Thursday comes after Democratic leaders had repeatedly told Trump that a bill with $5 billion in border-wall funding couldn’t pass either chamber of Congress.
Trump and Congress must come to agreement on a funding bill by Friday night, or parts of the federal government will shut down Saturday. That would mark the third time this year that the government has at least partially shut down.
The president has been scheduled to leave Washington for a 16-day vacation to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday night that he would remain in the capital if a shutdown occurs.
If the shutdown lasts until the new year, House Democrats, who are set to take the majority on Jan. 3, will have to come to a deal with a Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate on reopening the government.
Meanwhile, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., criticized the vote in a Twitter post late Thursday, questioning how the GOP “discovers $5.7 billion for a wall.”
“What if we instead added $5.7B in teacher pay?” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Or replacing water pipes? Or college tuition/prescription refill subsidies? Or green jobs? But notice how no one’s asking the GOP how they’re paying for it.”
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has concluded that Matt Whitaker, appointed by President Donald Trump as the acting attorney general, had no legal reason to recuse and is overseeing Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, according to a person familiar with the decision on Thursday.
However, an agency ethics adviser told Whitaker it was a “close call” and recommended that he step aside — a recommendation Whitaker declined to follow, according to a senior Justice Department official.
Formal notice of his role was expected to come in a letter to congressional Democrats who had said his critical comments about the Mueller investigation, made when he was a conservative commentator, require him to recuse — that is, to take himself out of any supervision of the case.
The acting attorney general has not been fully briefed on Mueller’s investigation but has been apprised of major developments per protocol. Rosenstein continues to play the leading role in overseeing the investigation, but Whitaker has the ultimate authority to approve or challenge new investigative steps.
At a news conference Thursday in which the Justice Department announced charges against two Chinese hackers, Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, said that Mueller’s investigation is “being handled appropriately.”
“In terms of my role, as we’ve described previously, we’ve continued to manage the investigation as we have in the past — and it’s being handled appropriately,” Rosenstein said. “Whether it’s Bob Mueller or Rod Rosenstein or Matt Whitaker or Bill Barr, that investigation’s going to be handled appropriately by the Department of Justice.”
He also addressed the “unsolicited memo” sent to the Justice Department earlier this year by Bill Barr, who Trump announced earlier this month was his pick to succeed Sessions.
The memo, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, criticized part of Mueller’s Russia investigation as “fatally misconceived.”
Rosenstein praised Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, but said the memo “had no impact on our investigation” and that “our decisions are informed by our knowledge of the actual facts of the case, which Mr. Barr didn’t have.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Barr’s memo “very troubling.” She pointed out that the document was proactively drafted just six months ago, and questioned why it was shared with Rosenstein and Trump’s lawyers.
“The drafting of this memo was not undertaken lightly. The memo presents a thoroughly crafted legal argument against investigating the president, with pointed conclusions that the president is above the law. The president is not above the law,” Feinstein said in a statement on Thursday.
“There’s no reason for a lawyer in private practice to do this unless he was attempting to curry favor with President Trump and convey that he would protect the president,” she added.
She added, “The Justice Department has been under relentless attack by this president and it needs a leader who is independent and able to defend the rule of law. The Attorney General is charged with protecting the people, not the president.”
WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday that it will sanction 12 debates for the 2020 presidential primaries, with the first ones taking place next June and July, the committee’s chairman, Tom Perez, said on a conference call with reporters.
Six of the debates will take place in 2019, Perez said, and six in 2020, with the final one in April. Perez said that none of the states with the first nominating contests — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — would host a debate until 2020.
Given the potential size of the Democratic field, Perez said the DNC would split the debates into separate events on back-to-back nights, with participation on a particular evening determined by a random selection open to the public.
That’s in contrast to the early Republican presidential debates in 2016, when the GOP held an undercard debate on the same day before the primetime debate featuring the major candidates.
“We expect that large field, and we welcome that large field,” Perez said. “Drawing lots strikes me as the fairest way to make sure everyone gets a fair shake.”
Criteria for presidential candidates to qualify for the debates, Perez added, would be based on polling and grassroots fundraising, though he declined to offer specific thresholds; those will likely be announced at later dates.
“This is the first step in an ongoing debate process,” he said.
Perez also said the DNC would not bar candidates from participating in forums, but he said it would discourage them from appearing in debates beyond the 12 the DNC is sanctioning.
In the 2016 presidential cycle, the DNC came under fire from activists for sanctioning just six presidential debates — though more eventually took place — and for limiting some of the events to weekend nights.