MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Spend any time at all on Capitol Hill, and you'll hear this said. Lawmakers do not get anything done without a deadline. Congressional leaders had hoped that would hold true this week. They are trying to combine a government spending bill with legal protections for the 700,000 or so immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally after being brought here as children. But here's the deadline part. The deadline for passing a spending bill is now two days away, and immigration has become the major sticking point.
NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us to talk about these negotiations. Hey there, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: All right, so start with immigration. How far along are negotiators in these talks?
SNELL: Well, talks are moving slowly. As you know, things kind of fell apart after a meeting at the White House where the president said - made some incendiary comments and kind of ended an earlier effort - a bipartisan effort in the Senate. Now we've got this group. They're calling themselves the number twos. They're the whips, the Republicans, the Democrats in both the House and the Senate who have been meeting. And they're trying to address those four pillars that were laid out by the White House.
Now, leaders are saying they don't think that Friday is really a deadline for DACA. At least that's what Republicans are saying. They just say it's the deadline for spending, and they're pushing for a short-term spending bill to keep the talks alive. You know, lawmakers are also confused about what exactly Trump wants. McConnell kept pushing that idea and returning to the issue over and over again in his weekly press conference. Here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, at the risk of being repetitious, I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign.
KELLY: We have heard, though, Kelsey, from Senator McConnell, other Republican leaders. They sound pretty confident that they have a plan for a stopgap spending bill, that the government is not going to shut down on Friday. I mean, how much time do they actually have to work this out?
SNELL: So they're kind of in a familiar place. Republican leaders have seen this before. They're at risk of losing votes from conservatives in the House and Democrats in the Senate. But they need both to be onboard to get a bill passed to have anything sent to the president to sign. I talked to Mark Meadows. He's the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, that group of conservative Republicans. And he said that he has a lot of concerns not just about what a short-term spending bill would do for military spending but also about what would come after this, what kind of deals are being negotiated. And he's been suggesting today that Republicans don't have the votes.
Now, the White House backs the idea of a short-term spending bill, so that could help. But Democrats are skeptical, too. Here's what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at his weekly press conference.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
CHUCK SCHUMER: They don't like this deal, and they believe if we kick the can down the road this time, we'll be back where we started from next time. So there's very, very strong support not to go along with their deal.
SNELL: The they he's talking about there are Democrats - Senate Democrats. And Democrats are wary of backing down because this issue has become a huge deal for many people in their base who are demanding that they stand firm. And there are some people who are even calling for a shutdown to show how serious they are.
KELLY: Well, how serious are they? I mean, that's tough talk we just heard there from Senator Schumer. How would you rate the chances that Democrats might - could really force a shutdown Friday night?
SNELL: Well, it's hard to say at this point because as crazy as it sounds that we are on - here at Wednesday and Friday is the deadline, there's still a lot of time for them to come up with something. There are little bits they could add to it. And Democrats could find that it just doesn't work well for them politically to be standing in the way of keeping the government open.
KELLY: OK, thank you, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thank you.
KELLY: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell reporting from Capitol Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.