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Congress Needs Last-Minute Deal To Avoid Government Shutdown


I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where time is running out. There are just hours to go until a partial shutdown of the federal government. The House passed a bill last night to keep the government funded for four weeks. But over on the Senate side, Democrats, who are looking for protections for young immigrants, say no can do unless there's a broader deal. All that could mean a shutdown starts at midnight Eastern Time. Now, this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went to meet with President Trump at the White House. But when he returned to the Capitol, it was pretty clear there was still a lot of daylight between the two men.


CHUCK SCHUMER: We had a long and detailed meeting. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.

KELLY: All right. Well, let's go to Capitol Hill now where NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is monitoring as the clock ticks down. Hey, Scott.


KELLY: All right. We're now at four hours ahead of the deadline. Our deadline vigil continues. Where do things stand?

DETROW: Today has been oddly slow for the final hours before a deadline. But in the true spirit of deadlines, things do seem to be moving now. A vote has been scheduled for 10 o'clock Eastern, and in about 20 minutes, Senate Democrats are going to huddle behind closed door to figure out their game plan for the rest of the night. Biggest thing so far have just been a handful of meetings - Marc Short, the White House legislative director, was here meeting in House Speaker Paul Ryan's office. The biggest meeting so far today, though, was the one you were just talking about between Schumer and President Trump. President Trump tweeted after the meeting. He called it an excellent preliminary meeting, and he says he, Schumer and other leaders are making progress.

KELLY: Now, all day behind these closed doors, Republicans have been emerging and saying this is all down to Democrats, that Democrats have it fully under their control whether or not there's a government shutdown. Is that an accurate portrayal?

DETROW: Well, it is true that Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House. But in the Senate, Democrats do have the power to block a final vote on this measure. Right now, they have the votes to do that. You have a few Democrats who have come out and said they will vote for a funding bill - Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The thing they all have in common - they're on the ballot this year in states that Donald Trump won by large margins in 2016.

But Democrats say that the framework should not be about just tonight's vote. It should be about bigger picture the fact that President Trump and Republican leaders have said they also want to get a final agreement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which, of course, expires in March because of a decision President Trump made last fall. So Kamala Harris of California is one of the Democrats who say this just comes down to the fact that President Trump promised that he would sign anything Congress came up with. A bipartisan group of lawmakers came to meet with him last week. And then he rejected their plan.


KAMALA HARRIS: His history with his word has proven to be consistent. He didn't keep his word. He didn't keep his word. And so he rejected it. And so here we are now on the eve of what might have to be the shutdown of the United States government.

KELLY: Talk to me, Scott, about how both sides, Republicans and Democrats, see the risks here, risks that are starting to feel more real minute by minute.

DETROW: So the Republicans have a hashtag approach to this. They're trying to brand this the Schumer shutdown, saying that this is all on Democrats. They also included a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program to try and make this more appealing to Democrats, but that didn't work. And Democrats - they seem to be making a bet here saying that President Trump would take the blame if the government shuts down. And they seem to be bargaining that, you know, he might not be the most disciplined messenger if this becomes a shutdown fight.

KELLY: And in just a few seconds, if they don't strike a deal tonight, maybe some more action over the weekend.

DETROW: That's right. For all intents and purposes, this wouldn't be fully felt until Monday. So maybe if they hash this out over the weekend, it could be minimized.

KELLY: Watch this space. Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Scott Detrow with the latest from Capitol Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.