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Congress Returns Amid Pressure To Revisit Derailed Health Care Efforts

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Members of Congress are back in Washington after a two-week break, and they've got a lot of work to do. Unless they strike a deal on spending legislation, there could be at least a partial shutdown of the government by the weekend. While demands from the White House have complicated the negotiations, President Trump appears to have retreated on some key issues. And as NPR's Geoff Bennett reports, that seems to have put things back on track.

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Spring recess over, Washington lawmakers return to the ornate, vaulted corridors of the U.S. Capitol feeling some relief. President Trump seems to be backing off his demand that Congress immediately start funding his long-promised southern border wall.

JEFF FLAKE: I don't think any of us are very hot on the 2,000-mile wall.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: And I'm for a wall where it makes sense, but a 2,200-mile wall doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's not a big appetite for that.

BENNETT: Those were the voices of Republican Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The White House previously insisted that the must-pass spending bill include a down payment for the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It would have been a legislative win during Trump's first 100 days in office.

The White House was also hoping for a revival of the failed health care efforts ahead of that marker. But House Speaker Paul Ryan wasn't having it, and the Trump team seem to back off. Then Trump told a group of reporters from conservative media outlets Monday night he is willing to delay wall funding until the fall. Here's President Trump speaking to reporters at the White House this afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The wall is very, very important.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In your first term.

TRUMP: Well, it's certainly going to - yeah, yeah, sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In your first term.

TRUMP: We have plenty of time - got a lot of time.

BENNETT: Democrats have long said they will not back President Trump's pet project. So the president's shift makes it possible for both sides to reach a viable deal, says Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

CHRIS MURPHY: Listen; I - ultimately we should be able to land this thing by the end of the week. We've clearly signaled our ability to support a budget that has some increased funding on the border. We cannot, you know, support funding the wall, but you know, we can try to meet the president and Republicans on, you know, on ground that would allow us to get a bipartisan vote.

BENNETT: But a few hurdles remain, like disagreements over defense spending and payments owed to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. President Trump has threatened to deny those payments, but Democrats insist the money must be included in this spending bill. Congressman Joe Crowley of New York is a member of Democratic leadership.

JOE CROWLEY: Let the American people understand exactly what the president's intentions are here to do. He wants to bring this law down by hook or by crook.

BENNETT: Republicans control all the levers of power in Washington, but Democrats have leverage in these spending talks, which Crowley says the president is finding out firsthand.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I think the president's learning that the all-powerful position of the presidency is a powerful position, but it's not the end-all, that there is an equal co-branch of government called the legislature and that when it's properly exercised, it gives a role for the minority from time to time to play a role.

BENNETT: He and other lawmakers say it's possible negotiators in the House and Senate will reach a one- or two-week extension to keep the government running while lawmakers forge a more solid deal. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sounded optimistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: I look forward to more productive conversation with Senators, our house colleagues in the White House so that we can get this important work done quite soon.

BENNETT: Soon is the key word. Absent a spending deal, the government will go dark on Saturday, which also marks President Trump's 100th day in office. Geoff Bennett, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.