Saturday 21 September 2019

Trump’s demand for wall moves US government closer to shutdown

The president said he would will not travel to Florida for Christmas if the government shuts down.

Government funding for various US departments expires at midnight on Friday (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Government funding for various US departments expires at midnight on Friday (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

The US House of Representatives has approved funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall in legislation that pushes the government closer to a partial shutdown.

The package, which included Mr Trump’s 5.7 billion-dollar request (£4 billion) for a border wall with Mexico, is almost certain to be rejected by the Senate.

The White House said Mr Trump will not travel to Florida on Friday for the Christmas holiday if the US government is shutting down.

More than 800,000 federal workers will be facing a leave of absence or forced to work without pay if a resolution is not reached before funding expires at midnight on Friday.

The shutdown crisis could be one of the final acts of the House Republican majority before relinquishing control to Democrats in January.

Mr Trump had given mixed signals on how hard he would push for five billion dollars in border wall funds. But he dug in on Thursday, telling House Republican leaders he would not sign the Senate bill that did not have the money.

Conservatives want to keep fighting. They warn that “caving” on Mr Trump’s repeated wall promises could hurt his 2020 re-election chances, and other Republicans’ as well.

The House voted 217-185, largely along party lines.

“Now we find compromise,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. “We have time right now to get it done.”

The government funding package, which includes nearly eight billion dollars (£6.32 billion) in disaster aid for coastal hurricanes and California wildfires, now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are grim amid strong opposition from Democrats.

Sixty votes are needed to approve the bill there.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned senators they may need to return to Washington for a midday vote on Friday.

Many senators already left town for the Christmas holiday.

The Senate approved a bipartisan bill late on Wednesday to keep the government temporarily funded, with border security money at current levels, 1.3 billion dollars (£1.03 billion), and no money for the wall.

The most likely possibility on Friday is that the Senate strips the border wall out of the bill but keeps the disaster funds and sends it back to the House.

House politicians said they were being told to stay in town for more possible votes.

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President Donald Trump had given mixed signals on how hard he would push for border wall funds ( Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

With the backing of Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become House speaker on January 3, the Senate-passed bill likely has enough support for House approval with votes mostly from Democratic politicians, who are still the minority, and some Republicans.

Others were not so sure. “I don’t see how we avoid a shutdown,” said retiring Representative Dennis Ross.

I looked him in the eyes today, and he was serious about not folding without a fight Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus

Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he was not convinced after a White House meeting with Republican leaders that Mr Trump would sign the Senate bill.

“I looked him in the eyes today, and he was serious about not folding without a fight,” Mr Meadows said.

Mr Trump’s sudden rejection of the Senate-approved legislation sent Republican leaders scrambling for options on Capitol Hill days before Christmas.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, exiting the hastily called meeting with Mr Trump at the White House, said, “We’re going to go back and work on adding border security to this, also keeping the government open, because we do want to see an agreement.”

By afternoon, Mr Trump shifted his terminology, saying he was not necessarily demanding a border wall but “steel slats” — which is similar to the border security fencing already provided for in the bill.

“We don’t use the word ‘wall’ necessarily, but it has to be something special to do the job,” Mr Trump said at a farm bill signing at the White House.

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Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi after a revised spending bill was introduced in the House (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

The nuance could provide Mr Trump a way to try to proclaim victory. The bill would keep funding at current levels for border security, including pedestrian fencing and replacement fences, but not the wall.

Democratic leaders have made clear they will not budge on their opposition to the border wall that Mr Trump campaigned on saying Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has refused.

“The Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but it will not get him his wall,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Democrats favour border security, Mr Schumer said, but he denounced the wall as “ineffective, unnecessary and exorbitantly expensive”.

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