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White House threatened spending bill veto and potential shutdown over congressional push on Ukraine payments

Posted at 4:51 PM, Dec 20, 2019

The White House insisted that House Democrats drop language in the year-end spending bill establishing a specific and quick timeline for deploying appropriated aid to Ukraine or risk a veto, multiple people involved with the talks told CNN.

The disagreement was contentious and the White House drew a red line on the issue, the people involved said. But the matter was resolved over the course of a few days as Democrats backed down, with the threat of a shutdown never moving to the forefront, the people said. A White House official confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump will sign both the defense bill and the omnibus bill and that the spending bill is not in jeopardy, citing a legal requirement that the defense bill must be signed first.

The people acknowledged that the White House's position wasn't viewed during the talks as out of line or conspiratorial and that the limits Democrats were trying to put in place cut into executive authority to a degree they expected to draw pushback. But the Democratic push underscored how unsettled congressional Democrats are by what has transpired.

Even those supportive of the White House position acknowledged the optics of the White House rejecting the proposal in a budget deal staving off a government shutdown were not ideal in light of the prominent role of Ukraine in the President's ongoing impeachment ordeal, but noted it was one of several executive authority issues fought over in the final days of the talks.

Trump is scheduled to leave Washington on Friday evening and White House officials say he will sign the $1.4 trillion spending package before he departs, officially taking the threat of a government shutdown off the table.

That House Democrats agreed to drop the proposal underscored that there was an understanding that it was far reaching. An administration official said there was some friction over what were described as "poison pill riders" that were ultimately dropped as part of the negotiating process.

"We are grateful that together Congress and the administration found a path forward that protected the President's constitutional authority, addressed Congress' interest in this issue and was ultimately enacted into law," Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director and key negotiator on the spending package, said in a statement.

The issue was first reported by The Washington Post.

It was one of several factors the White House and congressional negotiators had to hammer through in the final sprint to produce the sweeping spending bills, the people familiar said.

"These issues were negotiated primarily by the Appropriations Committee and OMB," Drew Hammill, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement. "These matters were two among dozens that had to be resolved in order to reach agreement on the two minibuses between both Houses of Congress and the White House."

White House officials made clear to congressional negotiators that they viewed the provisions -- which would have required regular notifications and mandated that the White House approve and transfer the US assistance to Ukraine appropriated by Congress within 45 days -- as an infringement on executive authority and a complete nonstarter, the people said. While Congress appropriates funds, the executive branch generally operates the process that dictates when the money is deployed.