House bill to avoid shutdown — and protect DACA — gains momentum

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the U.S. Capitol, answers questions on the possibility of a government shutdown. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — With a government shutdown looming at midnight Friday, the USA Act, a bipartisan funding bill that includes both a DACA fix and steps to address border security issues, is drawing increasing interest from the White House and earned the public support of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. The bill was also discussed in a meeting among key Senate and House members who are playing a leading role in the budget deal talks.

The House passed a short-term spending measure backed by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday night. However, that bill has not ended the threat of a shutdown because Senate Democrats are confident they have the votes to stop it from passing in the upper chamber.

According to a senior Trump administration official, over the past two days, the White House has spoken with the coauthors of the bipartisan bill, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. The official told Yahoo News that those conversations should be seen as “an indication” the Trump administration has interest in the bill. The official described the situation as “fluid” but noted the legislation was “a position that some have encouraged us to look at.”

With a little over 24 hours left before the deadline for a budget deal to keep the government running, Democrats and Republicans remain at an impasse. Democrats are insisting that any agreement include a fix to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That initiative shielded so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation.

A source familiar with the situation said the USA Act, which is short for “Uniting and Securing America,” was also discussed on Thursday at a meeting led by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. The source said that group plans to meet again and, in the meantime, the legislators who were unfamiliar with the USA Act plan to read up on it. Hurd and Aguilar’s offices did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

President Trump has sent mixed messages about his position on DACA. In general, the White House has said the president wants to sign a bill that allows the Dreamers to stay. But the administration has indicated Trump would sign off on a DACA fix only if it was paired with the border wall that was one of his signature campaign promises. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly suggested Trump’s notion of a wall had evolved to include other border security measures. In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Trump denied he had evolved or changed his views in any way and declared, “The Wall is the Wall.”

The USA Act protects the Dreamers from deportation and doubles the funding authorization for Operation Stonegarden, a grant program that provides money for overtime and related expenses to coordinate law enforcement efforts along the border. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security to conduct an assessment of border security needs. As it stands, the USA Act does not provide funding for any physical barriers along  the border. However, in a conversation with Yahoo News on Wednesday, Aguilar suggested the Homeland Security assessment would “develop a framework” for future funding decisions. Aguilar also said, as a coauthor of the bill, he would be open to including funding for border security in the legislation if it would lead to passage and avert a shutdown.

With growing interest in the legislation in the White House and on Capitol Hill, Pelosi has provided the most direct endorsement of the USA Act.  In a press conference on Thursday, she described it as a “good bill” and a “compromise that I can support.” Pelosi noted the USA Act does not go “as far” as she would like because it  protects only the Dreamers and does not include their parents. Still, Pelosi said that she had encouraged Trump to look at the legislation.

“I mentioned that to the president yesterday, but I’m not sure he … he didn’t have it in front of him,” Pelosi said of the bill. “In all fairness to him, I’m hoping that now he has read that.”

A Pelosi aide offered an even more explicit endorsement of the USA Act when Yahoo News asked if the minority leader thought it could be the way forward as a potential shutdown looms.

“We certainly think it should be,” the aide said.


Additional reporting contributed by Olivier Knox.