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.