House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, speaks to members of the media after voting on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Warns of ‘Very Long Shutdown’ Over Wall Funding Dispute

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump warned of a lengthy partial government shutdown if Senate Democrats don’t back a stopgap spending measure that includes money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, hours before a deadline to approve the must-pass legislation.

The threat makes it likely that House Republicans will not be willing to pass a clean bill averting a shutdown and increases the odds that a shutdown would last at least until Jan. 3 when Democrats will take over the House. Trump is scheduled to meet with Senate Republicans at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the funding bill, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

“The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED,” Trump said in a Friday morning Twitter post. “If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime!”

The president’s comments sought to preemptively shift blame to the minority party if a funding lapse occurs at midnight, even though Trump has said he’d be proud to shut down the government. The president on Thursday scuttled an apparent deal to fund the government through Feb. 8 when he suddenly said he’d reject it. 

House Republican leaders, under pressure from conservative lawmakers and pundits, sought to meet Trump’s demands, adding $5 billion for border wall construction to the Senate’s version of a stopgap spending measure.

But senators from both parties have indicated that the modified legislation won’t pass when the chamber returns for another vote on Friday, leaving lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill back where they started with a midnight deadline looming.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday his party won’t fund the wall, which Trump pledged Mexico would pay for, and said the new Democratic House would pass a bill reopening the government without wall funds on Jan. 3 if need be.

Trump also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to permanently change the Senate’s rules to allow spending bills to pass with 51 votes rather than the current 60 votes, in order to make Democratic support unnecessary. Republicans control 51 seats in the chamber.

The brinkmanship between Congress and the White House was part of a chaotic week in Washington, with Trump’s last minute rejection of the stopgap spending plan, his sudden announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria and the surprise resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Markets were whipsawed by the turmoil in Washington. Shares turned sharply lower Thursday after Trump hardened his demands with the Nasdaq Composite index slumping to the brink of a bear market and the S&P 500 closing at a 15-month low.

Trump’s Base

Trump’s insistence on the wall funding after his aides indicated earlier in the week that he’d accept a temporary spending bill without it was a bow to his voting base. After the Senate easily passed the measure without any money for the wall, conservative pundits, voters and lawmakers erupted.

“He sees he is standing with the American people and Congress is standing with him,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a North Caroline Republican who urged the president to veto any spending legislation that doesn’t include wall funding.

Schumer of New York said Trump was “plunging the country into chaos.” He called the decision House GOP leaders to add the wall money a “cynical” political ploy.

Normally, when the House and Senate differ on legislation a conference committee can convene to work out differences. With both sides so dug in on the issue of the wall, ideas for a compromise were scarce.

Kentucky Republican Representative Hal Rogers said Congress would try despite the odds to find a way out to keep the government open. “If there’s some middle ground here we’ll try to find it,” Rogers said. “There’s always a chance.”

Pessimistic

But Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, said the House won’t accept another version from the Senate without the wall money and that means a shutdown is likely.

Trump won’t travel as planned to his Florida resort for the holidays if there’s a shutdown, Sanders said at the White House.

Trump’s wall plan had deep support among Republican voters, but a majority of the wider electorate opposes him, polls show. The president hammered on the border security issue in the weeks leading up to the November midterm elections, in which Republicans lost a net 40 seats in the House, turning over control to Democrats.

Senate to Meet

The Senate is scheduled to convene at noon Friday, and McConnell plans to vote on the House-passed spending bill, which also contains $8 billion in new disaster relief funding.

Once that bill is blocked, the Senate may again send the House a measure that would keep the government agencies open through Feb. 8. After that, the next steps are unclear. House Republican leaders have shown no indication they would put such a bill to a floor vote in defiance of Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and his leadership team had begun the day Thursday planning to hold floor votes on the Senate’s spending package. But Ryan came under heavy criticism from conservatives during a private party meeting and then was called out to speak to Trump on the phone, several lawmakers said.

Ryan -- who has been busy giving a series of farewell speeches in recent weeks as he plans to leave office -- canceled a scheduled press conference before he and other House GOP leaders were summoned to the White House.

Trump during the meeting said he would not sign the Senate-passed measure, prompting Republicans to rewrite the bill.

The economic effects of a shutdown over the Christmas and New Year holidays may be limited. Seventy-five percent of the $1.2 trillion federal discretionary budget has been funded through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Without a spending bill, about 400,000 "essential" employees like border guards and airport screeners would continue to work without pay while about 350,000 other workers would be sent home. Federal grants, loans and purchases would also cease for the areas of the government affected.

As House Republicans settled on their plan to fight for Trump’s wall, some Republican senators expressed frustration over the dispute and Trump’s shifting signals over whether or not he would sign legislation to keep the government open.

Asked if he believes Trump might still sign a stopgap bill without wall funds, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said, “Who knows?”

“Does the person sitting beside him at the White House know?" Corker said. "Who would know?”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.