A new demand from the White House may have dashed any hope for a bipartisan compromise to avoid another government shutdown at the end of this month.
The federal government's current temporary spending authority expires on April 28, and budget experts were never completely convinced that the effort to authorize continued spending would go off without some faction in Congress trying to attach a highly partisan rider to the must-pass legislation. Spending fights like this one always magnify the leverage of groups in Congress, like the House Freedom Caucus, who are willing to incur the anger of their colleagues and much of the country to press for changes on issues important to them.
Politico reported that it might be the Trump administration that throws sand in the gears this time around. The website reported Wednesday morning that Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, is telling GOP lawmakers that the administration wants a rider added to the spending bill that would bar federal funding from flowing to so-called sanctuary cities.
Sanctuary cities are loosely defined as municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with federal authorities to enforce immigration law. Policies differ from city to city, but typically they encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear that they will be handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In New York City, those crimes might include acts of terror. Some refuse to hold undocumented immigrants who are arrested until they can be picked up by immigration officials or even to report that they have an undocumented person in custody in the first place.
Trump has been particularly incensed by sanctuary cities since the beginning of his presidential campaign in 2015 and has repeatedly called for federal funding to be withheld from them as punishment. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that states and municipalities that fail to demonstrate compliance with federal requests for assistance in immigration cases would be ineligible for grants from the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.
Mulvaney’s demand, though, goes considerably further than that, Politico says, encompassing a much wider range of programs.
If Republicans block federal funding to sanctuary cities, most of which tend to be heavily Democratic, the prospects of bipartisan cooperation on the bill would most likely dry up instantly.
Nancy Pelosi, the leader of House Democrats, represents a district wholly within the sanctuary city San Francisco. She and fellow Democrats who support large urban areas would never get behind a bill with a funding ban that hit their constituencies. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, likewise, comes from New York, which is also a sanctuary city. In the Senate, the Republicans will need to assemble 60 votes to avoid a filibuster, and Schumer wouldn’t be inclined to help find them for a bill shutting off funds to major cities.
The pressure from the White House to include the rider, while plainly in line with Trump’s view of how sanctuary cities ought to be treated, may also be an effort to bring the Freedom Caucus on board with the rest of the Republicans in the House GOP conference when it comes to the spending bill, something that would allow the GOP to pass it without any Democratic votes.
The roughly three-dozen-strong Freedom Caucus, if it withholds its support, can deprive Republican leadership of a majority of floor votes if Democrats refuse to cooperate.
Whether a sanctuary city’s rider would be enough to get Freedom Caucus support is unclear. The members — from some of the most conservative districts in the country — have in the past tried to add other hot-button issues to must-pass legislation, including the defunding of both the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood.
The Freedom Caucus also has a history, as the White House learned during the effort to pass the American Health Care Act last month, of taking whatever more moderate Republicans will give them — and then asking for more.