Senate approves bill to keep government running

WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved legislation Wednesday to temporarily fund the government, a key step toward averting a federal shutdown after President Donald Trump backed off his demand for money for a border wall with Mexico.

Senators passed the measure, which would keep government running to Feb. 8, by voice vote without a roll call. The House is also expected to move before Friday's deadline, when funding for a portion of the government expires. Without resolution, more than 800,000 federal workers would face furloughs or be forced to work without pay, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.

While the White House indicated Trump was open to reviewing whatever Congress could pass, the president did not immediately weigh in on the short-term plan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will remain in session Thursday. "We have to see what the House does," he said.

Many of Trump's supporters were frustrated he appeared to retreat on his shutdown threats after promising a fight over the wall, which had been central to his presidential campaign. Just last week Trump said he would be "proud" to shut down the government over his demand for $5 billion for the wall. Some allies described the move as caving on his pledge, expressing concern that it could hurt Trump's 2020 prospects.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Trump's political base "will just go crazy" if he signs a bill without wall funding. He warned it will be tougher to win the money next year when Democrats control the House. He said supporters of the president "believe it's a promise that he's been telling them that he will keep."

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway also faced tough questioning on "Fox & Friends," the morning show known to be one of Trump's favorites. Host Brian Kilmeade said Wednesday that Trump has "no leverage," while Ainsley Earhardt asked why Trump was "softening" his position.

"The president is not softening his stance," Conway said. "He has a responsibility to keep the government moving forward, and he has a responsibility to get border security."

McConnell, though, portrayed the short-term spending measure as a "simple" bill showing Republicans, who control Congress now, will finish the year by not prolonging a potential crisis.

Voting was delayed until late Wednesday as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, mostly from the West, pushed a package to reauthorize a popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30, and add other measures addressing public lands. Unable to reach agreement, they postponed action as talks continued.

At one point late in the late evening, senators broke out in a round of Christmas carols from a corner of the chamber. A few moments later, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., gaveled a procedural vote closed by suggesting "Rudolph" had voted present.

It was unclear how many House members would return to Washington for votes after Republicans lost the majority in the midterm election. Some 70 members missed Wednesday's session, almost as many Democrats as Republicans.

With many House Republicans sour on the spending package, passage could depend on Democrats.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, who is on track to become speaker when Democrats take control Jan. 3, signaled support for ensuring funding.

Should the legislation become law, the border money fight would drag into the next Congress, which could prove even more difficult for Trump.

Pelosi will probably be able to quickly win approval of a longer-term measure to keep government running in 2019.

"Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January," Pelosi said in a statement.

As some Republicans grumbled Trump caved, McConnell lashed out at Democrats for failing to give Trump any of the $5 billion he wanted for the wall. The bill keeps funding at current levels, $1.3 billion, for border security and fencing, but not for the wall.

"This seems to be the reality of our political moment," McConnell said. "It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats oppose Trump's border demands because the wall is "inefficient" and because Trump, as a candidate, promised Mexico would pay for it, which Mexico has refused to do.

"We want smart, effective border security," Schumer said. "That's not a wall."

But the White House showed its willingness to budge as it became apparent the president did not have support in Congress for paying for the wall.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated earlier this week Trump did not want to shut down the government. She said the administration was looking at ways to find the money elsewhere, though that was uncertain because it would also likely need congressional approval.

Congress did pass legislation to fund much of the government through the current budget year, until next Oct. 1.

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