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Republican Lawmakers Ignore Trump’s Shutdown Threat

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/30/2018 Erik Wasson and Anna Edgerton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan say they’ll wait until later to seek $5 billion for the border wall. © Leah Millis Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan say they’ll wait until later to seek $5 billion for the border wall. Donald Trump repeated his threat to shut down the U.S. government if lawmakers don’t provide more money to build his proposed border wall, even as Republicans in Congress are planning to push a fight over the president’s signature proposal past the November election.

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Trump said: "If we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It’s time we had proper border security."

The president’s comments followed a tweet on Sunday with a similar message, though he hasn’t specified a timetable.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are sticking with their strategy of completing full-year funding bills for most agencies before the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year. They say they’ll wait until later to seek $5 billion for the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The two leaders met with Trump Wednesday and later said the president was on board with their plan — leaving aides to wonder why Trump appears to be contradicting that strategy.

Trump didn’t specify whether he wants to shut down the government by vetoing spending legislation when the fiscal year concludes at the end of September, or as several funding bills are considered later in the year. A shutdown ahead of November elections could hurt the GOP, which is battling to keep control of the House and Senate.

A House Republican aide said there’s no chance of a September shutdown although one in December is possible if Trump follows through with his threat.

Agency funding

The Senate, which canceled most of its August recess in part to debate spending bills, is poised this week to pass a package of bills funding the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Treasury, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

The House and Senate have already approved a separate package funding the departments of Energy and Veterans Affairs and are working out differences in the competing versions. The Senate plans in August to vote on the Defense, Labor and Health and Human Services spending bill.

Republicans plan to have the House pass these packages when it returns from recess Sept. 4 and send them to Trump’s desk.

The bills for the most part represent spending increases rather than the deep cuts Trump proposed in his last budget. They don’t contain many provisions Democrats would normally object to since Republicans are generally satisfied with regulatory rollbacks being carried out by the Trump administration. A key problem lawmakers are trying to work out is whether to pay for increases in veterans’ medical funding by cutting spending elsewhere.

Nine of the 12 annual spending bills needed to keep the government running would be enacted before Oct. 1, leaving funding for the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice and the State department on autopilot until after the election. Because Trump’s wall was funded during the current fiscal year, it would continue for the length of the extension.

Delaying fight

Assuming the annual bills pass and are signed by the president before the start of the fiscal year, the border wall fight could become a point of tension with Democrats later as lawmakers finish legislation funding the remaining government agencies.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that he "would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!" On Monday, Trump followed up with another tweet saying the wall needs to be built “much faster.”

Democrats said Trump’s comments show he’s trying to prevent a bipartisan compromise.

“Partisan games and shutdown threats are no way to run our government, and I hope House Republicans will be willing to stand up to President Trump and work in good faith to produce appropriations bills with bipartisan support,” Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Ryan told reporters Thursday that congressional leaders and Trump "have a unified strategy to make sure that we can get as many appropriation bills done as possible."

"As far as the wall is concerned, we’ve gotten some wall funding already underway,” Ryan said. “That is being funded. But I think it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. And the president’s willing to be patient to make sure that we get what we need so that we can get that done, because border security’s extremely important.”

GOP strategy

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said after the Ryan-McConnell meeting that the goal is to “sort through” the spending bills in a way that would delay debate on wall funding until after the elections.

“They are trying to defer that fight until these other things that aren’t controversial can get put to bed,” Cornyn said. “In the past the Democrats have used that to scuttle the whole bill.”

The Senate spending panel has produced a bipartisan Homeland Security bill providing $1.6 billion for border security, while the House panel last week approved a rival bill providing $5 billion for a border wall.

The House bill would temporarily shield from deportation young, undocumented immigrants known as dreamers. They became vulnerable after Trump canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA.

"It’s a mini-compromise based on what the president laid out," said Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican who is chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee. "To get $5 billion in the ultimate package you are going to have to be willing to compromise on other provisions in order for Democrats to be comfortable with the final package.”

Trump’s Sunday tweet indicates he is still interested in a larger immigration bill that would limit family-based legal immigration, which opponents call "chain migration," as well as ending a diversity visa lottery and withholding funds from "sanctuary cities" that don’t fully cooperate with immigrant deportation efforts. Republicans joined Democrats to block a plan with these provisions in February.

The government has already had two partial shutdowns this year. Senate Democrats prompted a three-day shutdown in January by trying to force Trump to sign a bill sparing dreamers from deportation. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky caused one lasting a few hours to protest spending increases in a two-year deal over budget caps.

With assistance from Laura Litvan.

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