House Republicans were unsettled Tuesday about how to keep the federal government open after Friday, hours after a group of hard-line conservatives threatened to derail the GOP's high-profile tax bill in a bid to change developing plans to avoid a shutdown.
Democrats, meanwhile, have yet to lay out how they intend to approach the coming weeks of negotiations. Because Democratic votes are needed to move any spending bill through the Senate, and likely through the House, they have power to force Republican leaders to accept concessions.
The impasse runs the risk of Congress missing Friday's spending deadline and could complicate the GOP's ongoing talks to implement significant reforms to the nation's tax code.
Senior aides to top congressional leaders and President Trump were set to meet again Tuesday to sort out details of the spending agreement, according to multiple aides familiar with the talks. A final White House meeting between Trump and top leaders isn't scheduled until Thursday, leaving little time to reach a spending agreement.
On Tuesday morning, Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors to discuss how long to extend a stopgap funding measure. House leaders said they will proceed with legislation setting a new deadline for Dec. 22, forcing action on spending before the Christmas holiday. But the conservative House Freedom Caucus — wary that Democratic priorities could get wrapped in a last-minute deal — wants a later deadline.
Asked whether the meeting had produced any clarity on the timing of the stopgap, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas — the powerful chairwoman of an appropriations subcommittee on defense — laughed.
"There's no clarity," she said.
Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., a deputy whip, said opinions on the date were "mixed" but that House leaders remained trained on a two-week stopgap.
"We've got our work to get done, and we've got to make sure we support our troops," Ross said. "Whatever strategy works is fine with me."
But other Republicans left the meeting Tuesday morning saying the timing remained unsettled.
"They didn't tell us what they were going to do yet because quite frankly they don't have the will of the conference yet," said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
He expressed disgust with the entire process and said Democrats should be happy because Republicans clearly do not have a majority of the votes needed to proceed on spending legislation on their own.
"Right now if I were them I'd be happy," Amodei said of Democrats.
But there are signs of divisions among Democrats, whose liberal wing wants to force Republicans to use the spending bill to enact permanent legal protections for so-called "dreamers," while moderates are less keen on a holiday season spending fight.
"We'll see what they have," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters late Monday about the GOP's spending plans.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday accepted Trump's invitation to meet with him, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a face-to-face encounter that was supposed to happen last week. Democrats backed out of the meeting after Trump tweeted his doubts about reaching a bipartisan deal to keep the government open and settle disputes over policy issues including immigration and health care.
Democrats are pressuring Republicans to resolve the legal status of dreamers, roughly 1.5 million children of undocumented immigrants, after Trump announced plans in September to end an Obama-era program that grants many of them temporary legal status. Coming up with a new plan is a big sticking point for Democrats in spending talks.
Dozens of House Democrats and at least six Democratic senators — five potential 2020 presidential candidates and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democratic senator — have said they would vote against any spending bill that doesn't resolve protections for dreamers. But moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia, who face reelection next year, said late Monday that they would not join other Democrats in voting against a spending bill due to disagreement on immigration matters.
Privately, Democratic aides say that talks are continuing among senior staff members about spending levels and changes in immigration policy that could win over enough Democrats in both chambers.
In their statement, Schumer and Pelosi said Monday that several other "key priorities here at home" also need to be resolved. The Democratic list includes funding to combat opioid addiction; shore up certain pension plans; pay for major infrastructure projects; replenish the Children's Health Insurance Program and cash-strapped community health centers; and to help states ravaged by recent hurricanes and wildfires. Democrats also called on Republicans to work with them on an immigration plan that would protect dreamers and create new border-security measures.
The leading concern in ongoing discussions is exactly how much more money the federal government plans to spend in the coming years. Talks are focused on raising federal spending levels by $180 billion to $200 billion over the next two years, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing talks. Republicans are pushing for hundreds of billions more for Pentagon spending, but Democrats insist that it must be matched with equal money for nondefense programs.
Despite the impasse, McConnell vowed once again on Tuesday that the Senate would pass the spending bill after the House later this week.