President Donald Trump’s budget director is urging congressional Republicans to take a hard line against sanctuary cities in a must-pass spending bill, complicating efforts to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, according to officials in both parties.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, is pressing lawmakers to include language to restrict federal funding grants for cities that do not enforce federal immigration policies. The goal is to bring the House Freedom Caucus on board with a government funding bill, according to Capitol Hill Republicans — or at least show that the administration is courting the support of the hard-right and pushing GOP leaders to adopt Trump’s priorities.
But the effort by Mulvaney, a former conservative congressman from South Carolina, threatens to disrupt bipartisan negotiations on funding the government. Democrats are already calling a request for border wall money a “poison pill” that would shut down the government. An attempt to block liberal cities from receiving federal funds if they ignore immigration guidance would similarly cause Democrats to flee. The budget bill will need Democratic votes to pass — at least eight in the Senate, but probably in the House as well.
“It would blow up any chance of a bipartisan deal. Getting wall money is hard enough, and you get a guy pushing new riders out of nowhere,” said a Republican congressional aide. “I don’t see how catering to the Freedom Caucus votes help on [the] spending bill."
The White House referred questions on the matter to the OMB. An agency spokesman declined to comment.
The talks between congressional leaders are already delicate: Trump wants $1.4 billion for a border wall and security in the spending bill, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says his caucus won’t support it. The Democratic leader reiterated his caucus’ stance during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
“There are no negotiations — I met with Mulvaney once,” Schumer said. “We hope our Republican colleagues won’t insist on things that will cause a government shutdown, but talks are going pretty well right now.”
Indeed, Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been making significant progress that could be derailed by Mulvaney’s move. McConnell said in an interview on Friday that he had a “cordial” meeting with Schumer last week about avoiding a shutdown. Both McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have vowed there will be no shutdown.
“Most things in the Senate do require 60 votes. Democrats are not irrelevant. The first big test of that will be the funding bill when we get back,” McConnell said.
Senior Republicans and members of the Appropriations Committee are trying to keep Mulvaney’s proposal out of the bill, sources said. The fear is that Senate Democrats will filibuster any bill with the sanctuary cities language and put Washington on a path toward a shutdown.
In the House, a GOP leadership source said the sanctuary cities restriction would repel Democrats and force Ryan to rely on House Freedom Caucus members to pass a funding bill.
“Of course, that’s a nonstarter,” Matt Dennis, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), said of the sanctuary cities idea.
Congress returns in two weeks and will have just five days to avert a shutdown before funding expires on April 28.
Because of the nation’s decentralized process for grant-giving, it’s difficult to say how much money would be at stake if Mulvaney’s sanctuary cities proposal were adopted. While many grants come directly from a federal agency, more are doled out through state governments or local organizations.
After Trump administration officials suggested they would seek to block funding for sanctuary cities in January, Reuters projected that the 10 largest cities, from New York to Washington D.C., would stand to lose $2.27 billion in federal grants. That includes money for Head Start preschool programs, HIV prevention and airport infrastructure.
Cutting off money to sanctuary cities would force lawmakers to make tough decisions about whether to cut off an entire county from funding because a grant recipient technically falls within a sanctuary jurisdiction, the Congressional Research Service warned in a March report.
Republicans have little appetite for another high-profile failure, after the collapse last month of their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. A government shutdown would undoubtedly be seen as a debacle for the Trump White House and the Republican Party, though Democrats could also draw blame if they vote against government funding.
A Senate Democratic aide said that either border-wall funding or the sanctuary cities crackdown would tank any bipartisan efforts at a funding bill.
Mulvaney said in an interview Sunday with a Charlotte, North Carolina, radio host that it’s important that the president’s priorities be reflected in a government funding bill. A border wall was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign, and he was vocal about putting the screws to sanctuary cities, too.
“Elections have consequences. The president needs to see his priorities funded," Mulvaney told WBT, "if he’s going to be participating in signing these bills.”
Rachael Bade, Elana Schor and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.