Trump Hardens Border Wall Demands as Shutdown Deadline Nears

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump hardened his demand for money to build a wall on the U.S. border, throwing a new hurdle in front of an attempt by Congress to avoid a partial government shutdown as a Friday deadline nears.

The president lashed out at Republican leaders on Twitter Thursday morning and summoned top GOP House members to a noon meeting at the White House to discuss the impasse over the border wall before a final vote on a stopgap government funding measure.

"At this moment, the president does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "The president is continuing to weigh his options.”

The White House statement came as a revolt among conservative House Republicans threw plans to pass a spending bill into confusion. Those members are seeking to add $5 billion demanded by Trump for a wall at the Mexican border -- a provision that doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate -- and they urged Trump to veto funding legislation without it.

U.S. stocks turned sharply lower as the threat of a government shutdown increased. The S&P 500 sank to a 15-month low, with losses accelerating after Trump hardened his demands. The Nasdaq Composite Index sank to within a whisker of a bear market on an intraday basis.

The Senate voted Wednesday night to fund the government through Feb. 8 without providing money for the wall. A failure to pass spending legislation by Friday night’s deadline would cause nine government departments to close before the Christmas holiday.

"Most Republicans want to go on record saying that we do support the wall and we do support the president, so just because the Senate said they’re not doesn’t mean we’re not," said GOP Representative Robert Aderholt of Alabama.

‘Not Good!’

Many Republicans were looking for a clear signal from Trump that he would sign the stopgap and not attack them over wall funding. But a tweet from Trump Thursday morning only seemed to deepen doubts about the bill’s fate.

"When I begrudgingly signed the Omnibus Bill, I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership," Trump wrote. "Would be done by end of year (NOW). It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries - but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!"

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said regarding the president, "It would be his responsibility for a Christmas shutdown and every single American would know it."

It wasn’t yet clear whether House Republicans, their ranks depleted because many retiring and defeated lawmakers have already gone home, would have the votes to amend the Senate spending bill, which passed on a voice vote.

Democrats will take over the House majority when the next Congress convenes in January. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is expected to be elected to return to the top job.

“They never did have the votes for their wall,” Pelosi of California told reporters at a news conference. “We’re right in the middle of a sort of meltdown on the part of Republicans.”

Criticism of Ryan

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and his leadership team began 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 canceled a scheduled press conference and members of his team said they were exploring ways to add border funds and emergency disaster relief to the bill.

"We are in conversations with our members and the president and it’s early in the day,” said Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 3 House Republican. North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, a member of the GOP leadership team, told reporters that the conversations are about $5 billion in border wall funds and disaster relief.

Representative Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican, said members are tired of leaders making all the decisions without consulting them.

“There’s a lot of people that believe we’ve got unfinished business that’s worth fighting for," he said. “We promised border security.”

‘Definitely a No’

Conservative Austin Scott, a Georgia Republican, who has sided with leadership in the past, said he agreed.

“We need disaster relief and we need to secure our border. I am a definitely a ‘no’ on this," he said.

Others in the party said the conflict could all be for show -- an effort to show Republican voters that the party is fighting for the wall.

“This is all theater," said Republican Tom Reed of New York.

Ryan also is being squeezed by moderate Republicans including Florida Representatives Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Tom Rooney. They said they weren’t ready to back the bill for lack of disaster funds.

"They don’t want to go home and get criticized for voting for this, without that funding," Rooney said.

Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, predicted the stopgap spending bill would go forward in the end.

The president said last week he would be “proud” to shut the government if it would force Democrats to provide the wall money, but the White House had since then appeared to backtrack. White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that Trump could be open to the stopgap spending bill.

Democrats would be in control of the House when the temporary funding expired, giving Trump less leverage in his demand for the $5 billion. Trump had said he would hold up Democratic priorities like an infrastructure package next year to try to get the wall, but conservatives said the best time to fight is while Republicans still have the majority.

"There is no way this gets any better next year," said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. "Now is the time to fight."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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