Right-wing Republicans threaten a shutdown over immigration, sparking backlash

Right-wing Republicans threaten a shutdown over immigration, sparking backlash © Provided by NBC News

WASHINGTON — Earlier this week, congressional leaders were feeling hopeful about reaching a deal to prevent a government shutdown. Then, a group of House Republicans took a trip to the border.

The trip on Wednesday fueled a wave of angst among right-wing lawmakers, who responded by issuing a new demand: Unless President Joe Biden and the Democrats agree to tougher border laws to curtail migration, the GOP-led House should shut down the government on Jan. 19.

“The Republican House majority cannot and must not continue funding a government that is purposefully facilitating the unprecedented invasion at our Southern Border,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the new chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, told NBC News after the border visit.

“Irreparable harm is being done to our country by this president’s open border policies. The time for talking about it is over,” Good continued. “Business as usual in Washington is bankrupting and destroying our country, and now is the time to stop it.”

“Border security is national security. Shut the border down, or we’ll shut the government down,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who added that he stands with Reps. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Eli Crane, R-Ariz., and Good in taking that position.

Another conservative who did not attend the trip Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., told NBC News he, too, will vote to shut down the government unless Congress defunds all federal programs that process and support undocumented immigrants.

“We have no other avenue if the Democrats continue to fund this anarchy to the tune of $451 billion a year to house, feed, educate and provide medical care for illegal aliens,” Burchett wrote in a text message.

For now, the threats are coming from the most right-leaning members of the House. They have not been endorsed by Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., or other GOP leaders, who prefer to tie immigration and border policy to aid for Ukraine, on which senators are engaged in ongoing negotiations.

But the far-right threats have sent a jolt of pessimism through both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, with the White House and top appropriators worried that this stance, if it spreads, could complicate an already difficult task of reaching a government funding deal.

“It’s so bad right now and everyone wants to win on it,” said one House GOP aide, adding that seeing the border situation in person and the number of arrivals “broke people’s brains.” The aide, who doesn’t work for party leaders, added of the situation at the border: “With a presidential election going on, I think people get fired up about that.”

Democratic leaders found the border trip to be instructive to House Republicans’ thinking, given that Johnson hasn’t publicly weighed in on the ongoing, bipartisan talks in the Senate. But Johnson, just months on the job, is facing pressure on border policy from the same group of rabble-rousing conservatives who made life hell for his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, and eventually ousted him from power.

Addressing reporters in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday, Johnson indicated that his top priorities include slashing non-defense discretionary spending and sealing the U.S.–Mexico border — a nonstarter for Democrats in both the White House and in Congress who are demanding that Republicans comply with the debt ceiling deal struck between McCarthy and Biden in May.

White House budget director Shalanda Young said it was always going to be a “daunting task” to meet the first of two fast-approaching funding deadlines, on Jan. 19, when money for Transportation, Agriculture and other agencies run out. But she said the GOP threats in the wake of the border trip make things worse.

“I’ve been taught to believe what people tell you and what they show you. And there are a growing number of House Republicans with this mindset. So I wouldn’t say pessimistic, but I’m not optimistic,” Young told reporters at a Friday breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “The border trip leaves me with more concerns about where they’re headed.”

The idea of tying government funding to border policies was met with fierce pushback from top Democrats, including Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash. Republicans passed their tough border bill, known as H.R. 2, through the lower chamber last year with no Democratic votes.

“We have seen this failed playbook before, and here’s the bottom line: shutting the government down over extreme partisan policies like HR2 doesn’t solve a single problem. Instead, it forces the personnel at our southern border to work without pay and seriously undermines the very agencies responding to the uptick in new arrivals,” Murray said in a statement to NBC News.

“A shutdown solves nothing — but hurts everyone,” Murray continued. “We need to work together, in a bipartisan way, to prevent a shutdown and pass full-year funding bills that solve the many challenges we face as a nation, and it’s time House Republicans get serious about doing just that.”

“House Republican leadership understands the weight of a shutdown. I believe that most of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle know that we cannot cater to a handful of their most extreme members who never vote for funding bills. We have a crisis at our border, but shutting down the government and forcing our officers and agents to work without pay is not only counterproductive but it is dangerous and threatens our national security at home and abroad.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said she believes Republican leaders “understand the weight of a shutdown.”

“We have a crisis at our border,” she said. “But shutting down the government and forcing our officers and agents to work without pay is not only counterproductive but it is dangerous and threatens our national security at home and abroad.”

There is a growing acknowledgment that there is not enough time for both chambers to clear the yet-to-be-unveiled national security package, consisting of significant immigration policy reform and funding for Ukraine and Israel, and separately consider a spending bill to avert a shutdown in the next few weeks.

“We want to get the border closed and secured first, and we want to make sure that we reduce non-defense discretionary spending,” Johnson said in Eagle Pass, without saying that the two should be tied together.

Four sources with knowledge of the process say it is now likely that both items converge on the Jan. 19 deadline, further complicating sensitive negotiations in a politically fraught environment.

Heading into the weekend, Senate border negotiators Chris Murphy, D-Conn., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., huddled in the quiet Capitol building for more than three hours on Friday, hoping to clinch an agreement on any remaining issues before members return next week from their winter break.

Emerging from the closed-door talks, Sinema told reporters that bipartisan negotiators were “on track” to brief their respective Democratic and GOP conferences sometime next week on the progress made on the border and national security package, but it is not yet clear if negotiators would produce a framework in time. She said she also spoke with Speaker Johnson earlier Friday but wouldn’t share what was discussed.

“You’ve seen that cartoon, ‘I’m just a bill,’ right, ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’” Sinema said. “You gotta get a bill through both chambers to get it signed by the president, so we’re working very hard to ensure that this is a bill that can pass both the Senate, the House and get signed by the president.”

Meanwhile, at issue in the spending negotiations is a separate pot of $69 billion in non-military domestic funding that House Republicans now want to slash from Biden and McCarthy’s $1.59 trillion budget deal — which the White House insists on protecting.

“This was a part of the budget deal. We have to make sure non-defense discretionary remains that $772 billion, which is a relatively flat level to current spending,” Young said. “Without that, I’m not quite sure how they get there.”

Source:  NBCNews.com