Thursday 17 January 2019

Democrats move to end government shutdown without money for Trump border wall

The House is expected to vote when the new Congress meets on Thursday.

The Capitol is seen amid leafless tree branches in Washington (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Capitol is seen amid leafless tree branches in Washington (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

By Zeke Miller and Lisa Mascaro, Associated Press

House Democrats are introducing a package of bills that would re-open the US federal government without approving money for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

The House is preparing to vote as soon as the new Congress convenes on Thursday, as one of the first acts after Democrats take control, according to an aide.

The package to end the shutdown will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels, with 1.3 billion US dollars for border security, through to February 8.

It will also include six other bipartisan bills, some that have already passed the Senate, to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown.

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Donald Trump has insisted his border wall must be funded (Niall Carson/PA)

They would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to September 30.

Democrats under Nancy Pelosi are all but certain to swiftly approve the package in two separate votes planned for Thursday.

What is unclear is whether the Republican-led Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will consider it or if Mr Trump would sign it into law.

The partial government shutdown is in its second week over Mr Trump’s demand for five billion US dollars for the wall.

Republican senators left for the holidays refusing to vote on any bills until all sides, including Mr Trump, were in agreement.

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A migrant family from Honduras climbs a border fence to jump inside the United States to San Diego, from Tijuana, Mexico (Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP)

Senators were frustrated that Mr Trump had dismissed their earlier legislation.

The president continued to insist he wants to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, despite the assertions of three confidants.

“An all concrete Wall was never abandoned,” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday.

“Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides).”

Mr Trump’s comments came after officials, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president’s signature campaign pledge to build the wall would not be fulfilled as advertised.

White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published on Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of “a solid concrete wall early on in the administration”.

“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Mr Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and “steel slat” barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.

Along the same lines, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction “a silly semantic argument”.

“There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements,” Ms Conway told Fox News Sunday.

“But only saying ‘wall or no wall’ is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that “the wall has become a metaphor for border security” and referred to “a physical barrier along the border”.

Mr Graham said Mr Trump was “open-minded” about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall.

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Senator Lindsey Graham (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the US as children, broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.

Mr Graham told CNN before his lunch with Mr Trump that “there will never be a deal without wall funding”.

The partial government shutdown began on December 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday.

Democrats have remained committed to blocking any funding for the wall, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a ‘fence,'” he tweeted.

“It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a wall, and there’s a big difference!”

Mr Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: “President and Mrs Obama built/has a 10-foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound.

“I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security.

“The US needs the same thing, slightly larger version!”

Mr Trump tweeted on Monday to Democrats: “Come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall.”

Press Association

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