Congress returned Monday from its Thanksgiving break hoping to avoid a government shutdown looming at the end of next week — with President Donald Trump being a potential wild card.
Hopes for a new coronavirus stimulus package are slim as lawmakers focus on the more limited goal of keeping the government open into next year with a must-pass $1.4 trillion spending measure.
Even that could prove tricky because of the outgoing man in the White House.
Trump may seek to use the talks as a way to flex his political muscle and show he remains relevant despite losing the election to President-elect Joe Biden.
And he has little reason to care about the usual political backlash against the White House that usually greets a shutdown.
The president may demand more spending on his pet project, the wall along the border with Mexico, even though he knows that is more than likely a deal-breaker for Democrats.
Trump may also insist on rejecting a provision that is popular on both sides of the aisle to give new names to military bases named after Confederate war heroes.
At issue are the 12 annual spending bills comprising the portion of the government's budget that passes through Congress each year on a bipartisan basis. Whatever approach passes, it's likely to contain a batch of unfinished leftovers such as extending expiring health care policies and tax provisions and continuing the authorization for the government's flood insurance program.
So what about a COVID relief package?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., struck an optimistic note.