President Donald Trump keeps threatening a government shutdown over his border wall. And Republican leaders keep ignoring his warnings.
The congressional GOP is intent on sending Trump a series of government spending bills over the next two months that would fund the vast majority of the federal government. And despite the president’s statement on Monday that he would have “no problem doing a shutdown,” Republicans seem sure that he’s not talking about a funding lapse right before the midterm elections.
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“I’m optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), twice, when asked about Trump’s latest remarks on Monday, which followed several presidential tweets hitting Democrats for being lax on border security and demanding the country “keep building, but much faster, THE WALL!”
McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) believe that Trump has bought into their plan to leave the border wall fight until after the election, a strategy first reported by POLITICO last week.
If everything goes smoothly this fall, the two Republican leaders anticipate funding all but a small slice of government through the regular appropriations process, and leaving Homeland Security funding and the border wall fight until a lame-duck session.
In a Senate Republican meeting on Monday afternoon, senators discussed the president’s renewed shutdown vows, according to two GOP sources familiar with the meeting.
Echoing his public remarks, McConnell told them that the Senate would move as many spending bills as it can to the president’s desk ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline and told Republicans that the budget deal passed earlier this year will finance work on border security through the election, according to one of those sources.
In other words, Trump’s outburst on Monday is not causing top Republicans to change course.
“I know he’s frustrated and I am too that we haven’t taken steps to adequately deal with border security. But we’ve got an orderly appropriations process going through here and I’m hopeful we can get most if not all the appropriations done,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “If there is some small failure to meet deadlines, it will be for a small piece of the appropriations process.”
The Senate hopes to have as many as 9 of the 12 annual spending bills done by the end of August; the House has gone home for a 5-week recess but has passed six of its own. The two chambers must still reconcile those bills before Trump signs them into law, and then would pass stopgap spending bills to cover the rest of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, according to Republican senators.
Under that line of thinking, voters would head to the ballot boxes after the Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — not after a government shutdown.
Asked whether he took Trump’s shutdown threats seriously, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) replied: “No.”
“He knows that would be a disaster. I think he wants to throw everything out there so everyone knows it’s an important thing,” Hatch said. “He knows the game.”
Still, there is some risk to Republicans’ strategy of avoiding a showy fight in Congress for Trump’s wall right before the elections.
Trump has sounded increasingly dug in on using a shutdown threat to amplify his demands to begin building a physical wall along the border with Mexico, bringing it up unprompted on Monday during his opening remarks at a news conference alongside the Italian prime minister and demanding cuts to legal immigration that Congress has already rejected this year.
“The whole thing is ridiculous. And we have to change our laws. We do that through Congress. So I would certainly be willing to close it down, to get it done,” Trump said on Monday. “I would be certainly willing to consider a shutdown if we don’t get proper border security.“
Trump notably said he did not have a “red line” where he would insist on getting the full $25 billion for the wall upfront. He told Ryan and McConnell last week that he wants a $5 billion down payment on the wall, the same amount of the House’s Homeland Security funding bill. The Senate’s bipartisan bill contains $1.6 billion, and Democrats say they won’t provide more than that.
“There’s an easy way out of this,” said a facetious Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “He said Mexico is going to pay for it. We’re going to open up the account, Mexico pays the money in, we take it out for the wall.”
The fight on immigration and border wall funding has bedeviled Congress since Trump became president. This year, Trump’s plan to build the wall, cut legal immigration and offer citizenship to 1.8 million young immigrants failed on the Senate floor, as did a bipartisan plan that focused more narrowly on protecting young immigrants and boosting border security.
Now the hope among Republicans is for the stalemate to hold past the election, and put off the border wall fight until the end of the year. But there’s no guarantee the president is any more likely to get his funding in December, particularly if Democrats take back the House or the Senate. Unless Trump is willing to cut a deal.
“The Dems are going to resist any attempt to significantly increase above what they’ve already agreed to in terms of wall funding. The president wants it all now,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D). “For Democrats to go along with that, you’d have to have some concessions on other immigration issues.”