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DACA Troubles Could Put Spending Bill In Peril

President Trump, with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn og Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks to reporters after a recent retreat where GOP leaders made plans for 2018.
Andrew Harnik
President Trump, with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn og Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks to reporters after a recent retreat where GOP leaders made plans for 2018.

Updated at 8:06 a.m. ET, Jan. 18

Congressional leaders plan to vote later this week on a month-long spending bill but the ongoing fight over immigration threatens to derail the plan days before the Friday deadline to prevent a government shutdown.

Republican leaders say they are confident that Congress will vote this week to extend current spending levels until February 16 but Democrats and some far-right conservatives are threatening to block the legislation.

Democrats say they are unwilling to vote for a spending bill that does not provide a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 700,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children. That group had been granted temporary status allowing them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation, and to work or attend college or graduate school, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program created by the Obama administration. In September of last year, the Trump administration announced those protections would end in March 2018.

Now with a January 19 deadline looming for continuing to fund the government, conservatives say they can't support any spending bill that paves the way for a future immigration deal that could favor Democrats.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Wednesday that a short-term spending measure will give negotiators more time to craft a bill that satisfies both sides and President Trump.

"I think the fact that we're in earnest and negotiating in good faith with our four leaders on DACA speaks to the fact that we want to see a solution," Ryan said. "We will not bring a DACA bill that the president doesn't support. What point would it be to bring a bill through here that we won't have signed into law by the president?"

The immigration talks ground nearly to a halt last week after Trump rejected a bipartisan solution proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., during a profanity-laden meeting at the White House. That meeting effectively ended those bipartisan talks and a second group of negotiators has stepped in to attempt to craft a new deal.

Those talks have been led by the second-ranking Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. The talks have not yet produced a solution and leaders hope a stop-gap spending bill will give them more time to reach a deal.

House leaders hope to vote on a spending bill on Thursday but a growing number of members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus say they may vote against the bill. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters Wednesday that conservatives aren't sold on the direction of the immigration negotiations and would not say how many he expected would vote against the bill.

"My understand is leadership is going to put it on the floor regardless if they have votes or not," Meadows said. "If that's the case, I guess the day of reckoning will come tomorrow."

Congressional leaders hope to avoid a serious confrontation over spending by pairing the stop-gap measure with a six-year extension of the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. That program has broad bipartisan support and leaders hope lawmakers will vote for the measure to avoid voting against benefits for low-income children.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Wednesday that he hopes skeptical Democrats will support the spending bill to ensure that CHIP is extended.

"The Democrats in the Senate have been very consistent in clamoring for addressing the children's health care program," McConnell said. "They claim they don't want to shut down the government, so it seems to me it would be a rather attractive package."

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y, told reporters that he wants to avoid a shutdown but many Democrats oppose the short-term spending bill.

"The revulsion towards that bill was broad and strong," Schumer said. "Who called for the shutdown? Not a Democrat, but Donald Trump has repeatedly said, on tape, over and over again, what the country needs is a good shutdown."

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Corrected: January 17, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the DACA program will end in March 2017. The correct date for the end of the program is March 2018, absent a new law codifying it or a further delay of its termination by the Trump administration.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.