Trump Insists on Border Spending as Shutdown Deadline Nears
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump insisted on funding a wall or other barrier along the southern U.S. border as tensions over a possible partial government shutdown intensified in the wake of the president’s refusal to sign a stopgap spending bill.
“Any measure that funds the government must include border security, has to,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. He said that a “physical barrier” is “essential,” adding that it could be steel slats instead of a wall.
Hours earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said the president told him and other Republican leaders he’ll refuse to sign the Senate’s version of a short-term spending bill because it doesn’t include funds he’s demanded for border security. Without an agreement to fund the government by midnight Friday, nine departments including Homeland Security will close just before the Christmas holiday.
"We also want to see an agreement that protects the border," Ryan told reporters. "We’re going to go back and work on adding border security to this."
The House GOP -- set to lose its majority to the Democrats in two weeks -- began counting votes for a vote likely later Thursday on new measure that would add the $5 billion in wall funds Trump seeks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has told senators to be prepared for a possible vote on government funding at about noon Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter. The GOP-controlled Senate easily passed the stopgap measure without wall money by voice vote late Wednesday.
Stocks turned sharply lower as the threat of a shutdown increased a day after the Federal Reserve sent shock waves across assets. At one point the S&P 500 tumbled to a 16-month low and the Nasdaq Composite index slumped to the brink of a bear market.
The White House visit by Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was hastily scheduled after conservative House Republicans revolted and insisted they wouldn’t vote for the Senate’s temporary spending bill because it lacks money for a wall at the border with Mexico.
McCarthy said "we believe there is still time" for lawmakers to iron out differences.
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.
The president previously said he would be "proud" to shut down the government if he doesn’t get the money. McCarthy said that if the House passed a bill with border funds and the Senate stripped the money back out, "the president wouldn’t sign it."
GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said it’s a "tough question" whether he would vote to override a veto by the president. "I’m in favor of the wall, but I also know it costs money to shut down government, it costs money to open up government and it’s not the smartest fiscal thing to do," he said.
In addition to the wall funds, the House measure adds about $8 billion in federal disaster aid sought by some lawmakers to the Senate bill that would keep the government open through Feb. 8.
“Nancy Pelosi said we don’t have the votes to pass it and we’re going to prove her wrong," said third-ranking House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He said passage will create a “clear contrast” with Senate.
Pelosi of California, the House minority leader who is expected to become speaker in January, has contended the House GOP doesn’t have the votes to pass a bill with border wall funds. “We’re right in the middle of a sort of meltdown on the part of Republicans,” she told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
One House Republican, Peter King of New York, was strongly critical of party members, many of whom are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who threw the spending bill into chaos.
"Freedom Caucus pressure to shut down the government is irresponsible policy and political malpractice. 21st Century version of Charge of the Light Brigade," King wrote on Twitter.
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."
Ryan and his leadership team had begun the day 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.
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 Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. "Now is the time to fight."
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.