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Donald Trump

Donald Trump climbs down from his US$5billion border wall demand, but Democrats spurn new offer and government shutdown still looms

  • Donald Trump has changed his tune since saying last week that he would be ‘proud’ to shut down the US government if funding for his border wall was denied
  • Republicans feared they would be blamed for a shutdown, prompting a new budget proposal and a reversal from the White House
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 6:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 6:37am

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday retreated from his demand for US$5 billion to build a border wall as congressional Republicans manoeuvred to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding expires at the end of Friday.

But Democrats immediately rejected Republicans’ follow-up offer, leaving the two sides still at impasse as hundreds of thousands of federal workers await word on whether they will be sent home without pay just before Christmas.

The new border funding offer from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, calls on Congress to pass a US$1.6 billion homeland security spending bill that was crafted earlier this year in a bipartisan Senate compromise.

Under the offer, Congress would also reprogram US$1 billion in unspent funds that Trump could use on his immigration policies. Republican West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who oversees the panel in charge of homeland security funding, said the reprogrammed money would not be able to be used for a physical wall but could be spent on other border security measures.

Trump accused of ‘temper tantrum’ after arguing with Pelosi and Schumer over Mexico border wall

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told McConnell on Tuesday that Democrats would not accept the deal, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, criticised the plan to reprogram the funds.

“Leader Schumer and I have said that we cannot support the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies,” Pelosi said. “So that won’t happen.”

McConnell said he was disappointed that the proposal had been rejected, calling it “a reasonable offer both sides should have been able to accept.”

With the two sides again deadlocked, several Republican lawmakers predicted that the most likely outcome would be a short-term budget extension to push back the deadline for a partial shutdown.

Trump plans to get the military to build border wall if Democrats refuse to fund controversial project

Such a “continuing resolution” would keep spending at existing spending levels but leave the larger questions of wall funding unresolved. It would also mean the next round of negotiations would probably happen with the House under Democratic control.

Funding for the Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, Agriculture and other departments – comprising a quarter of the federal government – runs out Friday at midnight absent action by Congress and Trump. The funding is all hung up over Trump’s demands for US$5 billion for the wall, which Democrats have rejected.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday said that Trump did not want a government shutdown and that the administration had identified “other ways” to fund a wall along the US-Mexico border. Sanders’ comments reflect a significant shift from when Trump last week told Democratic leaders he would be “proud” to shut down the government to get border wall funding.

“We have other ways that we can get to that [US$5 billion],” Sanders said on Fox News. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border.”

Trump threatens to shut down US government unless Democrats vote to build his wall

Sanders said the White House was exploring other funding sources and believed it could be legally done.

“There are certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use, that we can couple with money that would be given through congressional appropriations that would help us get to that [US$5 billion] that the president needs in order to protect our border,” she said.

On Tuesday, Sanders referenced the US$1.6 billion border security bill that was agreed to in the Senate earlier this year on a bipartisan basis. However, in recent weeks, Democrats have said they would support only US$1.3 billion for fencing and that the US$1.6 billion package would not pass the House.

Some Democrats doubted whether Trump could find a way to fund the wall without Congress signing off on it.

“I still believe in our Constitution, and Congress is the legislative branch,” said Democratic Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin. “I think our appropriations process restricts the wall, so I don’t see how he does it legally.”

Sanders’ comments come after a series of miscalculations by the White House and Republicans in recent days over how to try to get Democrats to sign on to US$5 billion to pay for the construction of Trump’s long-promised wall along the Mexico border.

While meeting with Schumer and Pelosi last week, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue, a statement congressional Republicans openly said muddied their messaging that Democrats should be blamed for a shutdown.

With Democrats near-unanimously opposing Trump’s demand for US$5 billion for the wall, Republicans lacked a path to pass it because they could not assemble the 60 Senate votes needed to advance a Homeland Security spending bill.

House and Senate Republicans have been in talks with the White House in recent days looking at other ways to try to secure funding, outside of the traditional appropriations process. They have looked at redirecting already approved money, among other things, according to a person briefed on the talks who requested anonymity to discuss deliberations.

Trump has threatened to shut down the entire border if Democrats do not agree to give him the US$5 billion, a threat that did not appear to force capitulation.

Then, on Monday evening, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, said he was anticipating a proposal from the White House, perhaps at 5pm, that never materialised.

But the White House never promised a 5pm proposal, and then Senate Republicans signalled that they planned to move ahead on an overhaul of the criminal justice system this week, giving them very little time to negotiate a budget bill.

Congressional Republicans promised Trump several months ago that if he would delay a fight over the border wall until after the midterm elections, they would help him obtain the money in December. But those efforts never materialised, and he was under heavy pressure to avoid a partial government shutdown just a few days before Christmas.

“The advice he’s getting is to not do this, to just sign the bill, get this over with and get into 2019, and then have this fight,” said Steve Moore, who was an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign.