Immigration deal distant as leaders try to avert shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — A deal between President Donald Trump and Congress to protect young immigrants from deportation remained distant Tuesday, as House Republicans leaders turned their attention to building support for a backup plan: a stopgap funding bill to stave off the threat of an election-year shutdown.

The focus on a budget Plan B — another temporary measure that would buy time for more talks — was the latest sign of a breakdown in bipartisan deal-making in a Congress that has struggled to find common ground even on areas of broad agreement. House Republicans tried to win over wary conservatives with a promise to repeal unpopular Obama-era health law taxes. Democratic leaders said they would not promise to vote to keep the government open past a Friday deadline without a plan to preserve a program that protects the young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

“We don’t want to shut down the government. ... We want to keep the government open,” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. “But we’re not going to be held hostage to do things that we think are going to be contrary to the best interests of the American people.”

With Democrats digging in, House GOP leaders moved quickly to try to unite the party behind a new stopgap funding measure before federal agencies begin to close Friday night. They sweetened the plan with a two-year delay on implementation of unpopular taxes on medical devices and generous employer-subsidized health care plans. The taxes, also unpopular with many Democrats, are part of former President Barack Obama’s marquee health law.

The temporary funding bill would also include a long-delayed, six-year renewal of a popular health insurance program for children of low-income families. It would fund the government through Feb. 16.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled the plan at a Tuesday evening GOP meeting and lawmakers and aides said it was received well, raising hopes that a potential shutdown would be sidestepped with relative ease.

Many Democrats said they’re still unlikely to support the measure without an agreement on immigration — a deal which was derailed, in part, by Trump’s incendiary remarks about “shithole” countries in Africa last week. Democrats appeared to see scant reason to bargain with a president many in their party view as holding racist views on immigration.

“There’s no trust there,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, who said he will probably oppose a short-term spending bill if there is no immigration deal.

Negotiations on immigration were to resume Wednesday but Marc Short, a top White House aide, said an agreement was very unlikely to come this week. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get a deal,” Short said. “I think this week would be fairly Herculean.”

Republicans have enough votes to push a measure through the House if they stay largely united. But some House GOP defense hawks could vote no because they want lawmakers to approve long-term spending for the Pentagon. Conservatives were also threatening to balk.

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