Congress moves to avert gov­ern­ment shut­down



The GOP-con­trolled Congress on Wednes­day se­verely un­der­mined Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s drive for a bor­der wall, em­brac­ing a short-term spend­ing bill that would keep the gov­ern­ment open but deny any new money for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

The agree­ment an­nounced by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., would fund the fed­eral gov­ern­ment through Feb. 8, avert­ing a par­tial shut­down sched­uled to take ef­fect at the end of Fri­day ab­sent ac­tion by Congress and Trump.

But the spend­ing bill would not in­clude any of the $5 bil­lion Trump is de­mand­ing for his wall, and it would punt the next round of bor­der wall de­ci­sions into the new year, when a new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House will have the power to stop wall fund­ing from go­ing through Congress.

With­out Congress, Trump’s only re­main­ing op­tions for ful­fill­ing his wall prom­ise would rely on a se­ries of legally du­bi­ous strate­gies that face op­po­si­tion from newly em­pow­ered Democrats at ev­ery turn.

Congress could send the spend­ing leg­is­la­tion to Trump as soon as Thurs­day, and con­gres­sional lead­ers said they ex­pected him to sign it be­fore the shut­down dead­line.

But the pres­i­dent – who just a week ago de­clared he’d be “proud” to shut down the gov­ern­ment over the wall fund­ing – did not pub­licly an­nounce his sup­port for the deal, throw­ing the out­come into ques­tion as Trump’s con­ser­va­tive al­lies on and off Capi­tol Hill pres­sure the pres­i­dent to re­ject the deal.

Trump con­tin­ued to in­sist Wednes­day that the wall would be built even with­out con­gres­sional in­volve­ment, writ­ing on Twit­ter that the mil­i­tary would build the bar­rier. He added: “One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!”

But the le­gal­ity of that ap­proach is ques­tion­able, and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Democrats would never al­low it to hap­pen.

Trump promised dur­ing his cam­paign for the pres­i­dency that Mex­ico would pay for the wall. Now, with Mex­ico’s gov­ern­ment hav­ing paid noth­ing and the pres­i­dent ask­ing tax­pay­ers for $5 bil­lion, he says Mex­ico is pay­ing for it in­di­rectly via a newly rene­go­ti­ated North Amer­ica free trade deal. Congress has yet to ap­prove the trade pact, and it’s not clear how it would re­sult in Mex­ico pay­ing for the wall.

The pres­i­dent’s best chance to get ma­jor fund­ing for the wall came and went a year ago, when ne­go­ti­a­tions with Democrats in­volv­ing cit­i­zen­ship for some un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in ex­change for wall funds fell apart amid ac­ri­mony.

Since then, Trump has pe­ri­od­i­cally de­manded wall fund­ing and threat­ened to shut down the gov­ern­ment to get it, a fight GOP lead­ers ul­ti­mately con­vinced him to put off un­til af­ter the midterm elec­tions. But there were never the votes in the nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate for Trump and Re­pub­li­cans to win the fight once the mo­ment ar­rived, a re­al­ity that Mc­Connell and GOP lead­ers ac­knowl­edged Wednes­day af­ter Democrats re­jected a fi­nal of­fer to spend $1.6 bil­lion on bor­der se­cu­rity and an ad­di­tional $1 bil­lion on other im­mi­gra­tion pri­or­i­ties apart from the wall.

“Faced with this in­tran­si­gence – with Democrats’ fail­ure to take our bor­ders se­ri­ously – Re­pub­li­cans will con­tinue to ful­fill our duty to gov­ern,” Mc­Connell said on the Se­nate floor Wednes­day morn­ing. “That’s why we will soon take up a sim­ple mea­sure that will con­tinue gov­ern­ment fund­ing into Feb­ru­ary: so we can con­tinue this vi­tal de­bate af­ter the new Congress has con­vened.”

Schumer, speak­ing on the floor shortly there­after, said: “I’m glad the leader thinks the gov­ern­ment should not shut down over the pres­i­dent’s de­mands for a wall, and Democrats will sup­port this CR.”

Not long af­ter that, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., an­nounced that House Democrats, too, would sup­port the mea­sure, likely en­sur­ing it has the votes to pass the House even if con­ser­va­tive Re­pub­li­cans de­fect.

Con­gres­sional Re­pub­li­cans ar­gued that they, and Trump, had lit­tle choice but to re­treat on the wall.

“Ul­ti­mately, we don’t have the votes to pass it. The Democrats in the Se­nate won’t sup­port it,” Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., said. “I’m not re­treat­ing, I want us to do it. But ul­ti­mately in this repub­lic and ac­cord­ing to the rules of the Se­nate, you need 60 votes to do it. And so you’re left with two choices, which prover­bially hap­pens ev­ery year now when we get to fund­ing the gov­ern­ment.”

He said that left “two choices”: “And that is the choice be­tween shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment or stick­ing to your guns on an is­sue. And I have yet – I’ve only been here seven years, I guess – but I have yet to see any­one win a shut­down.”

Congress ear­lier this year funded most of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the Pen­tagon, through next Septem­ber. But the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, which is re­spon­si­ble for bor­der se­cu­rity, and the Jus­tice, In­te­rior, Hous­ing, State and Agri­cul­ture de­part­ments have been op­er­at­ing on a short-term spend­ing bill that ex­pires at mid­night Fri­day.

If that were to hap­pen, hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral work­ers would be sent home with­out pay just be­fore Christ­mas. Oth­ers who are deemed es­sen­tial, such as Bor­der Pa­trol agents, would be forced to work but would not get paid un­til af­ter the shut­down was re­solved.

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