Republicans back Trump on border wall funding, balk at shutdown threats

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., speaks to WSTM from Capitol Hill on Nov. 28, 2018. (WSTM)

As President Donald Trump stepped up threats to shut down parts of the federal government if he does not get funding for a border wall, lawmakers on Capitol Hill seemed less eager Wednesday to let the Department of Homeland Security’s coffers run dry over the issue.

Congress passed about half of the appropriations bills necessary to fund the government for fiscal year 2019 before the midterm elections, but several departments, including DHS and the Department of Justice, are currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires at midnight on Dec. 8.

Trump told Politico he would “totally be willing” to shut those departments down if Democrats do not agree to a more substantial down payment on the expected $23 billion cost of a wall along the southern border.

“I’m trying to work with the president on meeting his goal. It’s going to be up to the Democrats to work with us on it. We'll know in the next 10 days,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Wednesday.

Senate Democrats previously agreed to appropriate $1.6 billion for border security in 2019, but the president and House Republicans are now pushing for at least $5 billion for the wall.

“Our position has been clear from the beginning: Ds & Rs have a months-old agreement in the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Twitter Tuesday. “$1.6B for border security, NOT a concrete wall or increases in detention beds or ICE agents. We should stick to this agreement. If POTUS interferes, he is responsible for a shutdown.”

Democrats have consistently rejected the $5 billion figure, but they have not entirely closed the door on some kind of deal. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Trump’s demands are “based on delusion, not reality” and the administration still has not spent the money Congress previously appropriated for the wall.

“All of us are in favor of border security. But do it in a way that makes sense both financially and practically,” Blumenthal said.

In media interviews this week, President Trump has taken an increasingly firm line on the border wall and dismissed the prospect of a compromise that would provide wall money in exchange for legal status for those who had been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“We desperately need a wall,” he told The Washington Post Tuesday.

In an interview with Politico, Trump predicted he would have a political advantage in a standoff with Democrats over the wall, pointing to tense confrontations over the weekend between Border Patrol officers and migrants trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico.

"I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner,” Trump said. “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.”

According to the Border Patrol, officers were hit by rocks during the conflict Sunday but none were injured. Still, other Republicans have also cited the migrant caravans seeking to apply for asylum at the southern border as a reason to fund the wall.

"If you don't see a need to substantially secure the border given all the threats we face, then you're not seeing the same movie I'm seeing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday.

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., said increased border security is also necessary to combat drug trafficking. Rather than tackling that issue in isolation, though, he pointed to proposed legislation that addressed border security and several other immigration issues that failed to pass in the House over the summer.

“The sad thing is, several months ago we had a very good immigration bill that was comprehensive in nature that included $25 billion for the wall over five years and would have solved the problem, and colleagues in my own party torpedoed that unnecessarily,” Katko said. “I think the best solution would be to resurrect that bill and bring it back up and get it done.”

House Republicans who met with Trump at the White House Tuesday said he was adamant about securing $5 billion for the wall in this year’s appropriations bill, and they intend to help him get it.

"We need to be there for him and make sure this gets signed,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters after the meeting.

Trump, who vowed Mexico would pay for the wall throughout his 2016 campaign, has repeatedly said he would be willing to shut down the government if Congress does not give him money for the project. Since many agencies have already been funded for 2019, a shutdown at this point would have a more limited impact, but some top Republicans are still downplaying the possibility.

“I don’t think there’s any need for a shutdown. I think we can get these things resolved if we work together,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Wednesday.

If Trump cannot get money for the wall now, he may not get another chance. Democrats will hold a majority in the House starting in January, and likely future Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have little reason to budge on the issue.

"We had better put it on the Dec. 7 funding bill because that is again the single biggest issue that the American people elected Republicans to accomplish in 2016, and we've got five weeks to get it done,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday.

Trump acknowledged Democrats might never give him what he wants, but he indicated he does have a backup plan.

“We need Democrat votes to have a wall. Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way. There are other potential ways that I can do it,” he told The Washington Post, noting his recent use of military personnel to place fencing and barbed wire along sections of the border.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said Border Patrol agents had told him they need additional barriers at the border to make their jobs safer, so he supports the president’s request. He would not commit to backing a shutdown over it, though.

“Whether we have a shutdown or not, that’s above my pay grade,” Roe said. “We should put the money in for the wall The president wants this, he ran on it, we should deliver on his promise.”

While he also backs the president’s call to secure the border fully, Rep. Katko brushed aside Trump’s shutdown threat.

“Nothing’s worth shutting the government down over,” he said. “I’ve never supported any government shutdown under any circumstances and I never will. We abdicate our responsibilities as legislators when we do that.”

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