Trump’s demand to build border wall could upend sensitive negotiations on Capitol Hill – Washington Post

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President Trump’s threat to shut down the federal government if Congress doesn’t budget money for a border wall could upend delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to keep the government fully operating past September as Democrats harden their resolve to oppose the funding.

During a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump leveled his latest threat about blocking new government funding if it doesn’t include money to start building a new barrier along the Mexico border.

“Build that wall,” he said. “Now, the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Congressional Democrats are holding their ground in opposing Trump’s proposal. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated their objections to funding a wall and argued that Trump would be responsible if the government shuts down over the impasse.

“If the President pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” Schumer said in a statement.

Billy Foster’s Texas ranch sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. He wants more security, but not a physical wall. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) played down the prospect of a shutdown at the end of September, telling reporters Wednesday at a tax policy event in Oregon that Congress will likely pass a stopgap extension of current funding — known as a continuing resolution — in the coming weeks.

“I think that’s something we all recognize and understand, that we’re going to have to have some more time to complete our appropriations process,” he said. “So I don’t think anyone is interested in having a shutdown. I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so.”

Ryan said the border wall should ultimately be funded, reflecting the wishes of most congressional Republicans, including key conservatives who have rallied to Trump’s side.

“We do agree that we need to have the physical barrier on the border. We do need to have border control. We do need to enforce our borders,” Ryan said. “We completely agree on that, and we have been talking over the year, and the last few weeks, about how best to achieve that.”

But Trump on Tuesday escalated a conflict with Democrats that has been brewing for months, telling his supporters, “Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk.”

The timing of Trump’s threat is significant. Current federal spending authority expires on Sept. 30, the end of the government’s fiscal year, and Congress must act by then to keep the government fully operating after that.

The shutdown threat is a response to the leverage granted to the minority party in the Senate. Spending legislation is subject to the same rules and procedures as any other law, and while Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster any bill — giving them the power to make demands on what is or isn’t included in a funding package.

Trump has called for the end of the Senate filibuster in recent weeks, including at Tuesday’s rally. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposes such a move, and there appears to be no stomach among Senate Republicans, many of whom are wary of what might happen under a Democratic majority, to push the issue.

In recent years, when Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House and Republicans held one or both chambers of Congress, partisan demands over federal spending were hashed out among top leaders in closed-door negotiations. And while leaders on both sides set out aggressive positions, they typically refrained from issuing hard ultimatums in order to preserve space to bargain.

Capitol Hill aides took note on Tuesday that while Trump threatened to “close down our government” over the border wall issue, he stopped short of an explicit threat to veto any spending bill that did not include wall funding.

A veto threat could box in GOP leaders as they prepare to negotiate with Democratic leaders who have pledged never to support wall funding. But Trump clearly placed the border wall at the center of those negotiations, increasing pressure on congressional Republicans to deliver.

“We’re looking forward to working with Congress to get funding for the border wall,” White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said Wednesday. “The President ran on it, won on it and plans to build it. Opposing the wall is simply opposing security for all Americans.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to have only a dozen working days in September to hash out a deal, though they could agree to a temporary stopgap ranging from a few days to several months to allow negotiations to continue.

During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed to force Mexico to fund construction of a wall along the U.S. border that he said could be up to 50 feet tall. Since the election, he has changed course, saying that Congress instead needs to spend taxpayer funds to begin construction on new segments of the wall. There is already a wall or fence along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Department of Homeland Security prepared an internal report earlier this year that estimated the cost of building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be $21.6 billion. Trump has chafed at that estimate, saying he could get the cost to come “way down.”

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