WASHINGTON – With a partial government shutdown possible on Dec. 7, President Donald Trump has met with Republican leaders to hash out a spending plan that includes money for Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Trump is seeking US$5 billion for the wall, which he made a centrepiece of his 2016 campaign and said Mexico would pay for, and he is stepping up pressure on Congress to provide it. Trump said he would “totally be willing” to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive the wall money he wants.
House Republicans approved $5 billion for Trump’s wall in a key committee, but a bipartisan bill in the Senate allocates just $1.6 billion for the border.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called Tuesday’s White House meeting “very productive” and said Trump “is very solid with where he wants to go and what he needs to have a secure border.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., took a hard line on the negotiations, saying Democrats will soon face a crucial question: “Are they going to shut down the government because they don’t want to keep America safe?”
Trump said he is considering a backup plan if Congress rejects his demand for the $5 billion, possibly including the continued use of troops and razor wire to prevent migrants from entering the country. He told The Washington Post that if he doesn’t get the money, there are other ways he could get it done.
But he has expressed impatience. “I am firm,” he said in an interview published Wednesday in Politico.
“I don’t do anything … just for political gain,” Trump said. “But I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner. People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave border patrol folks – I think that it’s a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So, we have to have border security.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Trump administration hasn’t even spent the $1.6 billion Congress approved in the current budget for the wall.
With Republicans in control of the presidency, the House and the Senate, “a shutdown is on their back,” Schumer said Tuesday. “Stick to the $1.6 billion.”
Democrats and GOP leaders struck a deal earlier this year to fund nearly three-fourths of the government into next year. Left undone, however, is funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border, and a few other agencies. They’re now running on stopgap funds set to expire Dec. 7.
Complicating border negotiations, Democrats also want to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and any possible co-ordination with Trump associates.
“I didn’t know Robert Mueller needed protection,” McCarthy told reporters, adding that there’s “nothing out there” for Mueller or Democrats to fear from Trump or his administration. “But I do know the southern end of our country needs protection.”
McCarthy, whose party lost more than three dozen House seats in the midterm elections earlier this month, urged Democrats to work with Republicans on the wall and other legislation, including a long-stalled farm bill, a new tax cut package and criminal justice reform.
“The election is over. Let’s put people before politics,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got a problem before us. Let’s solve that problem.”
Schumer said Democrats support strong border security and believe that $1.6 billion for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border, “is the right way to go.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump and GOP leaders discussed a range of legislative priorities, including the California wildfires, the farm bill and “the great need for border security at this crucial time,” as well as prison reform and the budget. The group also talked about Monday’s announcement by General Motors that it will shutter five plants and slash 14,000 jobs in North America, Gidley said.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.