Trump tells lawmakers he won’t sign deal to avert shutdown, demands funds for border security


DECEMBER 20, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan, accompanied by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on Dec. 20, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. – Andrew Harnik

President Trump said Thursday he would not sign a stop-gap spending bill if it didn’t include money to build a wall along the Mexico border, sending large parts of the federal government lurching towards a shutdown on Saturday.

His comments came after an emergency meeting with House Republican leaders, where Trump first revealed he would reject a measure passed in the Senate the night before. That measure would fund many government agencies through February 8, but it would not include any new money for a border wall.

“Any measure that funds the government has to include border security,” Trump said in an event at the White House. He added, “Walls work, whether we like it or not. They work better than anything.”

Trump’s comments on Thursday completely overturned the plan GOP leaders were patching together earlier in the day. They had hoped to pass a short-term spending bill tht would avert a government shutdown just days before Christmas.

In order to appease Trump, House Republican leaders scrambled late Thursday to try and attach an amendment to the Senate bill that would direct $5 billion towards the creation of a wall, but it was unclear whether such a change could win a majority of the chamber.

It’s possible a government shutdown could drag on for days or weeks, as Democrats have shown no willingness to budge off their refusal to finance the construction of a wall. Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in early January, likely giving them even more leverage in negotiations.

Trump is expected to leave Friday afternoon for two weeks in Florida regardless of whether a spending bill is passed.

Funding for many federal agencies expires after midnight Friday. Numerous federal agencies would be impacted immediately, and some seemed completely unprepared for the brinksmanship in Washington on Thursday.

Officials from the Smithsonian Institution, Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate National Park, and Gateway Arch either said they weren’t sure if they would be open on Saturday or didn’t respond to requests for comment.

House Republicans now will attempt to add an amendment to the Senate measure that adds $5 billion — the amount Trump has demanded — for the construction of a border wall and other security measures, as well as additional funding to deal with recent natural disasters.

The measure could fail in the House because Democrats there oppose it, and it ultimately has almost no chance of passing the Senate. Complicating matters, many lawmakers have already left Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday warned Republicans they may have to return for a vote on Friday. But it’s impossible for McConnell to pass a spending bill without support from Democrats because of Senate rules, and Democrats have locked arms in opposition to any money for a border wall.

If House Republicans are unable to add $5 billion in new funding for a wall to the Senate bill, GOP leaders would then be forced to decide whether to allow parts of the government to shut down or to pass the Senate bill and risk a White House veto.

Roughly 25 percent of the federal agencies that rely on Congress for funding will run out of money at the end of Friday. The agencies impacted deal with homeland security, law enforcement, national parks, transportation, housing, and other agencies. It would not impact the military, as lawmakers already passed a bill that appropriates Pentagon spending through September.

The impacted agencies would continue to perform some of their functions, but more than 100,000 employees are expected to be sent home without pay. The White House hasn’t yet revealed the full impact of a partial shutdown, as it is up to each agency to implement its own plan. But the impact would be widespread. Close to 80,000 Internal Revenue Service employees would no longer come into work, and national parks that are locked at night would not reopen in the morning.

It can occassionally take several days for the full impact of a shutdown to kick in, and some agencies could remain open on Saturday but close by Monday.

Trump’s opposition to the short-term deal brings him full-circle. Last week, he told incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he would be “proud” to shut the government down if he didn’t get the $5 billion for the wall.

This Tuesday, when it became clear Trump didn’t have enough support in Congress for the $5 billion, the White House began backing down from the ultimatum. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump would find other ways to fund the construction of the wall.

On Wednesday, Trump wrote in a Twitter post that the military would build it, though a number of budget experts said that would be illegal, as money can’t be redirected without Congress’s approval.

When Trump appeared to be backing down, conservative media outlets and Congress’s most conservative members revolted, demanding the president rethink his decision. By Thursday, Trump appeared to have abandoned that idea, again insisting the money come from Congress.

“At this moment, the President does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall,” Sanders said Thursday before Trump’s meeting with GOP lawmakers. “The President is continuing to weigh his options.”

Trump renewed his push for border funding via a post on Twitter: “When I begrudgingly signed the Omnibus Bill, I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership. Would be done by end of year (NOW). It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries — but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!”

Democrats will take control of the House next month, and some Republicans told the president this was his last opportunity to try to extract any money for the wall.

“We have to fight now or America will never believe we’ll fight,” Meadows told Republicans at a closed-door meeting Thursday.

“The time to fight is now. I mean, this is stupid,” said Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.).

As GOP leaders moved to adjust to Trump’s shifting stances, Democrats ridiculed the spectacle, even as they repeated vows that they would provide no money for Trump’s wall.

“I don’t know that anyone ever has any assurances from the White House on any subject including this one,” said Pelosi, the likely next speaker. “We’re right in the middle of a sort of a meltdown on the part of Republicans.”

Many lawmakers, particularly those who lost elections last month, have left Washington and aren’t expected to come back. That makes it harder for congressional leaders to rally the votes they need for any measures.

The construction of a wall along the Mexico border was one of Trump’s top campaign promises in 2016, and he vowed he would somehow make Mexico pay for it all. Since he won the election, he has demanded the money come from Congress, seeking between $1.6 billion and $5 billion. At one point, he even insisted Democrats give him $25 billion for the wall.

In Twitter posts early Thursday, Trump had ripped Democrats and promised to fight for wall funding but still appeared ready to sign a measure to keep the government open. He claimed his initiatives to move more agents along the Mexican border had made it “tight” and said he would not support infrastructure legislation next year unless Democrats eventually agree to finance the construction of a wall.

“Remember the Caravans?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Well, they didn’t get through and none are forming or on their way. Border is tight. Fake News silent!”

The government’s Department of Homeland Security painted a much different picture of the situation just a few weeks ago. It reported that the number of people arrested or detained along the Mexico border reached a new high for the Trump presidency in November, as arrests of juveniles and parents with children continued to rise. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 25,172 members of “family units” in November, the highest number ever recorded.

Last week, Trump said terrorists were crossing the U.S. border and he also offered the unfounded claim that people with contagious diseases were entering the country. At Trump’s meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, the president said he would take responsibility for a government shut down, upsetting many Republicans who had wanted to blame Democrats for any impasse.

Trump is planning to go to Florida on Friday afternoon for more than two weeks, and a partial government shutdown could draw complaints from lawmakers and the public if he was seen as vacationing in the sunshine.

Courtesy/Source: Washington Post