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Just 10 days before another government shutdown, Congress eyes Ukraine, Israel and border security

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ten days before a potential government shutdown, Congress is no closer to resolving the standoff and is even complicating the issue with Republican demands for border security changes as a condition for further support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

New House Speaker Mike Johnson said Tuesday that Republicans don’t want to close things down, but he’s well aware that his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted as speaker after compromising with Democrats in September to keep federal offices open.

“We certainly want to avoid a government shutdown,” Johnson said at a news conference alongside families with loved ones kidnapped in the Israel-Hamas war.

“It’s a dangerous time around the world right now,” he said. “We recognize that, and we’re doing our job.”

Johnson is facing one of his most difficult tests yet, just two weeks on the job he won after McCarthy’s ouster. Rather than lead the House Republicans into a strategy, the Louisiana Republican appears to be crowd-sourcing a way out of the government funding dilemma with his GOP colleagues.

At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, House Republicans discussed stopgap measures including a new idea gaining traction, a “laddered” approach, which would fund parts of the government until early December and the rest until mid-January.

Another proposal would simply extend all government funding until mid-January, according to those Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

The Senate, meanwhile, which is controlled by Democrats, has been working to devise a more comprehensive spending plan that would fund the government at current levels while also considering President Joe Biden’s nearly $106 billion request for supplemental money for Ukraine, Israel, the Asia-Pacific region and border security.

“None of this will be easy to do, none of this ” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“The outcome of the next two weeks will hang on the same thing I’ve emphasized all year — bipartisan cooperation,” he said.

Congress is in this budget-shutdown loop because the House and Senate have failed, as they often do, to pass the dozen individual bills needed to fund the various agencies in the federal government. When the new funding year began Oct. 1, lawmakers agreed to approve stopgap funding at the current levels until Nov. 17, to allow time to finish up the work.

To complicate matters this time, Republicans are refusing Biden’s request to support Ukraine in battling Russia unless the president agrees to their demands to beef up security along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he spoke Monday with Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and “made it clear to both of them: We have to have a credible solution” to the border.

McConnell said he’s aligned with Biden’s more “comprehensive approach” to funding Ukraine, Israel and other regions. But with the Senate slimly divided between Democrats and Republicans, he said Tuesday: “The border needs to be a part of it, if it’s going to clear the Senate.”

Biden’s funding request seeks nearly $14 billion in border funds for holding facilities, asylum officers and other needs, including efforts to stop the flow of deadly fentanyl. But Republicans say the funding doesn’t go far enough, and instead they are demanding policy changes that would make it more difficult for immigrants to claim asylum at the border. They also want to revive building the border wall.

Democrats decried the Republican proposal as a return to Donald Trump-era border policies. They said that the Ukraine funds should not be held hostage as Congress tries to resolve U.S. border issues that have been a difficult policy problem for years.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Congress cannot leave Ukraine behind as it confronts Russian President Vladimir Putin. She had blocked a Republican attempt Tuesday to pass the House’s Israel aid bill alone, without other aid.

“Ukraine is at a critical point in a brutal war. We must not give Putin a win and throw Ukraine to the wolves,” she said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Ukraine’s military could soon have “empty rifles.” He said the decisions being made now in Congress could determine whether Kyiv, the capital, remains a city in Ukraine or falls to Russia in the next year.

While Biden had requested $61 billion for Ukraine as part of his package, Republican support is waning. Some Republicans are eying a smaller amount that focuses on military hardware rather than funding for humanitarian and government aid in Kyiv.

Unable to finish their annual government funding work in the two weeks ahead, Congress will almost certainly have no other choice than a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown.

While the House and Senate have both approved packages of bills to fund the government, they take different approaches. House Republicans are veering dramatically from the agreement Biden and McCarthy struck earlier this year to set spending levels.

Instead, the House Republicans are slashing funding for most departments except defense, while the Senate also boosts defense and has shifted some resources. Without compromise, the final products have not been sent to Biden’s desk to become law.

Johnson presented several government funding plans to Republican lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, according to lawmakers in the room.

The House’s hardline conservatives including many in the Freedom Caucus mostly favored the two-step “laddered” approach because it would put a tight deadline on Congress to finish up the work and negotiate with the Senate.

But senior Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee warned that it would likely take far longer than to reach an agreement with the Senate on spending levels, especially when an agreement on topline spending that Biden-McCarthy struck is no longer being met.

“Technically it just takes time,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican.

Lawmakers do not expect any voting until early next week. That puts Congress on a tight deadline to avoid a shutdown.

But House Republicans noted that there is greater consensus around passing a stopgap funding measure than in September, when former McCarthy failed to gain GOP support for a funding plan. He had to turn to Democrats for support to keep the government open, and then faced the vote to oust him.

The House Republicans saw their majority control come to a standstill as they spent most of last month struggling to elect a new speaker before settling on Johnson.

“After the last month, if we walk into a shutdown right now, we deserve what we get,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota. “So we got to figure this out.”


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this story.

Lisa Mascaro And Stephen Groves, The Associated Press