President Trump Signs $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill, But Is 'Unhappy' About It

Mar 23, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 7:07 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Senate was in session until nearly 1 a.m. this morning in order to pass a major government spending bill before a two-week spring break. Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had listed all the Republican achievements in the $1.3 trillion bill. He said they were the product of a lot of negotiation.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: These provisions and the entirety of this omnibus represent months of bipartisan work.

CHANG: So Congress understandably was thrown off today by a tweet from President Trump. He threatened to veto the bill and shut down the government again. In the end, though, he did sign the bill. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us from the Capitol now with more on today's drama. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So at least this means you don't have to be at the Capitol tomorrow, I guess.

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SNELL: That's true.

CHANG: How did Congress react today to the president's veto threat?

SNELL: I have to say this was one of the most confusing mornings I have ever had covering Congress.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SNELL: Virtually nobody I talked to had on-the-record comments or guidance on where the veto threat was coming from. The overall sense among staffers was this - that this really wasn't a real threat, and they expected the president to sign the bill anyway. But they had no way of saying why they felt that way. And it's really hard to sort things out 'cause Congress just isn't here today.

CHANG: Yeah.

SNELL: Yeah. They finished their session late last night, and most people left town early this morning. Many House members are or were in New York at the funeral for Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who passed away last week. And I'm told others weren't even in the country because they're on official congressional delegation trips to other nations.

CHANG: I mean, this is not how a veto threat usually plays out, right? It's - I mean, isn't it usually done a lot earlier, threats like these?

SNELL: This is - yeah, this is absolutely not how things normally go with any kind of legislation, let alone a spending bill. You know, it's not unheard of for Congress to pass bills they know will upset the president. But that usually happens when one party is in the White House and the other party is in Congress. And even then veto threats are typically telegraphed far ahead of time and done through an official channel, not after a bill has gone through an arduous process of passing both chambers of Congress.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SNELL: And Republicans in Congress simply had no idea that the president would respond this way. And yesterday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked directly if the president backed the bills. And his response was pretty blunt.

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PAUL RYAN: Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. The president supports this bill. There's no two ways about it.

SNELL: Ryan went to the White House a day earlier to walk the president through the bill.

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RYAN: And on big bills, that's typically what I do with the president to walk him through, you know, the contours and the complexities of the legislation we pass. And, yes, he supports the bill. No two ways about it.

SNELL: You heard him say it there twice, that he...

CHANG: (Laughter) Yeah.

SNELL: ...The president supports it. But that was yesterday morning. And conservative lawmakers and commentators spent most of the day trashing the bill for increasing spending and adding to the deficit.

CHANG: Well, it doesn't seem like the deficit was the part the president objected to, right?

SNELL: Right.

CHANG: He tweeted that the Democrats had abandoned the 800,000 young people here on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And he complained about a lack of full funding for a border wall. What happened to those two things with this bill?

SNELL: Well, those were both part of the negotiations. And you could certainly say that, you know, DACA was one of those things that got left out. Democrats were initially the ones who wanted that to be put in the spending bill. In fact, they shut down the government over it. But they were just never able to reach an agreement. Folks I talked to on the Hill say the White House changed their demands a few times during the negotiations, and ultimately they just couldn't get a deal. Now you got some people saying it would be best to unlink the border wall and DACA, kind of bring down the temperature and make this a less heated political fight. But other people say it's simply impossible to do one without the other. And on the wall - there is wall money in there. Well, there's money for fencing and border security. And the speaker said that they did more than what the White House asked for.

CHANG: So now the president is calling on Congress to give him a line-item veto in the future so he can strike out individual parts of future spending bills. And he said he wants to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate so Republicans can pass bills with 50 votes instead of 60, basically so they wouldn't need the Democrats at all. I'm just going to take a guess. Any chance Congress would do either of those things, Kelsey?

SNELL: As of right now both seem really unlikely. Courts have ruled line-item vetoes like that unconstitutional, but that hasn't stopped previous presidents, including George W. Bush and President Obama, from looking into it. In terms of the filibuster, it's - even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it's an important way to make sure that the minority party has rights. And he doesn't want to get rid of it.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Kelsey Snell at the Capitol. Thanks.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.