The House passed a continuing resolution that maintains current funding levels and has no harmful policy riders, prompting a White House official to state, “If it passes the Senate, the president will sign this.” This change in attitude came about because Democrats realized that the House plan provided the best chance to avert a government shutdown and steep funding cuts. Concerned about a potential dramatic standoff with Republicans, Democrats were relieved to find that the process would likely end quietly. Senator Debbie Stabenow admitted that their initial reaction was to view the bill as chaotic, but they soon started considering the consequences if it didn’t pass.
However, there were compromises that the Biden administration and Democrats had to accept. Notably, the bill did not include the White House’s top priority, a $106 billion defense supplemental for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific. Both the White House and congressional Democrats were worried about the complex system of multiple funding deadlines proposed by Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray. Yet, the bill presented by Speaker Mike Johnson only had two deadlines, which, though disliked by some, were deemed insufficient reasons to reject the bill.
Acknowledging that the bill was not ideal but would still keep the government open and avoid spending cuts, Biden administration officials supported it. They were cautious about publicly endorsing the bill due to its exclusion of defense supplemental priorities, as overt support from Biden could have alienated Republicans and jeopardized passage in the House. Ultimately, only two House Democrats opposed the bill, providing a unified front that pleased the White House. The bill faced greater division among House Republicans, with 127 supporting and 93 opposing it.
The White House primarily focused on avoiding a government shutdown and remained in contact with counterparts on Capitol Hill throughout the process. However, they chose not to release a Statement of Administration Policy on the bill, which is atypical for high-profile legislation. Nevertheless, Representative Adam Smith commended the White House for recognizing the futility of pushing for the defense supplemental and instead supporting a bill with a better chance of success.
Behind the scenes, administration officials, including OMB Director Shalanda Young, maintained communication with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend. The first sign of the White House’s change in stance came when Schumer revealed his conversation with top White House officials, leading to an agreement that avoiding a shutdown would be a positive outcome.
The bill’s fast-paced nature and the lack of clear direction from the White House caused some uncertainty about its fate. Senator Chris Murphy speculated that the White House might not favor the bill but would not veto it if it secured significant Democratic support in Congress. Senate Democrats were still deciding on their votes, with Senator John Fetterman inclined to support the bill to avoid last-minute arguments before Thanksgiving.
Moving forward, Democrats and the White House must find a way to advance the president’s foreign aid request. With the next partial government funding deadline set for January 19 and no immediate legislative deadlines, there is time for negotiation. Republican Ukraine supporters expressed little concern about this, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stating that there would be enough time to address it by January or February. Senator Lindsey Graham expressed even greater optimism, hoping to resolve everything by the end of the year.
Although Democrats acknowledged the tough politics ahead, they believed they were doing their best given the circumstances. Senator Murphy likened their situation to having to make deals with arsonists in a crazy world.