Amid government shutdown threat, Republicans say Trump won't waver on border wall funding
Negotiations on the government spending bill are at a standstill after President Donald Trump threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not appropriate $5 billion for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Congress and the White House have the next ten days to reach a deal or the government will go into a partial shutdown at midnight, Dec. 8.
What was already expected to be a challenging fight over funding the government, has become increasingly complicated amid growing chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border where thousands of Central Americans are waiting to claim asylum in the United States.
With clashes breaking out in recent days between migrants and border patrol agents and the Department of Homeland Security temporarily closing a major port of entry, Trump argued the timing is right for a showdown over border security.
"If I was ever going to do a shutdown over border security, when you look at the caravans, when you look at the mess, when you look at the people coming in, this would be a very good time to do a shutdown," Trump said before Thanksgiving.
At a Monday rally in Mississippi, Trump repeated the message and urged Congress to fully fund the wall. "If this isn’t the right time to get funding, when you look at what’s happening at the border, there will never be a right time," he told supporters. "So we're going very strongly for funding for the wall."
While Trump has demanded $5 billion for the wall, and gotten it from the Republican-controlled House, Senate Democrats have only agreed to appropriate $1.6 billion for border security infrastructure and technology.
"This is our position," Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday. "If there's any shutdown, it's on President Trump's back."
Neither party in Congress wants to see a government shutdown, but that will be the inevitable outcome if the Democrats and President Trump remain inflexible. Republicans who are in discussions with the White House said they don't expect the president will waver, particularly in light of recent developments with the migrant caravans.
"The world has changed dramatically in the last week or two. He's not going to take 1.6 [billion dollars]," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday. "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."
Graham called the Democrats' $1.6 billion offer a "non-starter" and said he would advise Trump not to accept that deal.
According to Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the $5 billion border wall funding is a red line for President Trump who gave no indication that he is willing to settle for less. "That's what he tells us," he told reporters.
Shelby would not confirm whether Trump directly threatened to veto a government spending bill that did not fully fund the wall but said, "We're pursuing our goal, and that goal is to fund the government."
Senate appropriators met with Trump at the White House before Thanksgiving but many have not spoken with him since his repeated threats to shut down the government.
Sen. Shelly Moore-Capito, R-W.V., described negotiations as "ongoing" between both parties in the Senate and the White House. "We've got to find sweet spot here," she said.
In total, the Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost of the border wall and related infrastructure will reach $25 billion. After a similar fight over the wall earlier this year, Congress approved $1.3 billion for the wall, which Trump called a "down payment."
"I wouldn't be surprised if the president stands his ground here and says I'm not budging," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. noted that the president "is very passionate about getting funding for the wall." He added, "We want to push that as hard as possible can, but we'll have to see what the negotiations with the Democrats ... might ultimately look like."
The December government spending bill could be the last stand for Trump, who is under pressure to get as much of the border wall funding as possible before Democrats take control of the House in January.
The GOP-led House fully supported the president's funding request and passed the DHS appropriations bill earlier this year. Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., even proposed legislation to authorize the full $25 billion for the border wall.
In July, the House approved the $5 billion to construct 200 miles of new border wall and fence, technology and other infrastructure. They also provided money for DHS to hire nearly 800 border patrol agents and immigration enforcement officers and offered $4.1 billion for the construction of new immigration detention facilities. In total, the House directed $51.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, more than a seven percent increase over last year’s budget.
Many Senate Democrats argued that they are in favor of stronger border security, but have called the wall "wasteful," "counterproductive" and "costly."
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that Congress should take up border security as part of a broader immigration reform. "You can't solve the problem of immigration in this country with tweets and temper tantrums," he told Sinclair Broadcast Group said. "You've got to sit down and work out a new immigration law, as hard as that may be."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., argued that Trump and Republicans will have to offer a "comprehensive" package of immigration reforms if they want Democrats to authorize border wall funding. "We're not going to support what the president wants, building a wall, without getting a more comprehensive package," he argued.
For decades, Republicans and Democrats have failed to rewrite immigration laws that both sides agree are broken. It is virtually impossible to imagine such an agreement will be reached in the ten days before a partial government shutdown.
So far, the White House and Republican majority have not made any specific offers to Democrats that would give them the incentive to approve the border wall funding. "There's no conversation about that in our caucus," Durbin said.
In anticipation of the arrival of multiple Central American migrant caravans, 5,900 active duty troops were deployed to the border where they have been fortifying existing fences with razor wire and created new barriers. Customs and Border Protection have also surged additional officers from the northern border to the southwest to help process asylum seekers and prevent illegal border crossings.
The Department of Homeland Security has estimated there are more than 6,000 migrants in Tijuana waiting to enter the United States and more arriving each day. Resources are running low and tensions have been mounting on the Mexican side of the border. The Tijuana mayor has warned of a "humanitarian crisis" and turned to the United Nations for support.
Over the weekend, Customs and Border Patrol shut down the San Ysidro border crossing, the most highly trafficked land port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego, for the second time in a week, in response to a demonstration of roughly 500 migrants. The protest evolved into a rush on the border and attempts to illegally cross into the United States, according to DHS. When their passage was blocked, some migrants hurled stones and bottles at border patrol agents who responded by deploying tear gas into a crowd that included women and children.
Those conditions have only hardened the positions held by Republicans and Democrats on Trump's border policy.
"Everything he was concerned about with the caravan is coming true," Sen. Graham argued.
Democrats remain frustrated by the pattern of the administration's immigration actions, from separating families at the border and attempting to limit asylum claims, to allowing legal protections to expire for "Dreamers," the children of undocumented immigrants. "You can't separate what's happening now at the border from what's happened over the last two years with President Trump's policies," Cardin said.