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.
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.”
On Wednesday, a committee that raises money for Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee sent an email to supporters calling on them to pressure Senate lawmakers that “the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed” and asked them to digitally sign an “Official Build The Wall Petition.”
Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has weighed in on Trump’s remarks, but some prominent conservative lawmakers are urging Republicans to support the president.
“Congress would do well to join the President by keeping our own commitments and including border wall funding in upcoming spending measures,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter before Tuesday’s rally.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another influential voice within the group, repeated that message. “Secure borders are vital to natl security — Congress shld fund border wall in govt funding legislation this fall — time to keep our promise,” he tweeted Tuesday.
While a border wall is quite popular among fervent Republicans, surveys show that the public at large is skeptical — a divide that has helped fuel the Democratic opposition.
Rasmussen Reports, a conservative-leaning firm, conducted an automated poll of likely U.S. voters late last month and found that a solid majority of Americans oppose building a border wall “to help stop illegal immigration,” with 37 percent supporting Trump’s proposal versus 56 percent against. That is similar to a poll conducted in February by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that found Americans opposed the wall 62 percent to 35 percent.
House Republicans voted last month to provide the $1.6 billion in seed funding for the border wall as part of a larger spending package. That bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate.
Spending legislation that passed into law earlier this year did not include border wall funding after Democrats refused to accept it. That impasse increased pressure on Republicans to deliver wall funding in future spending battles.
Democrats uniformly slammed Trump’s remarks, with several calling the president’s speech “unhinged” on Twitter.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called Trump’s threat the “polar opposite of leadership” and said the president should be held accountable if the government shuts down.
“Wasting tens of billions on a useless and immoral border wall is a nonstarter for Democrats, particularly at a time of such real need in our communities. Congress should use this funding to help American families — not fulfill campaign applause lines,” Lowey said Wednesday in a statement.
Rank-and-file Democrats and several caucuses representing them took to Twitter Tuesday to double down on that position.
“Threatening to shut down the gov’t for a campaign promise and a wall we don’t need is irresponsible and reckless,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, tweeted from an account representing the panel’s Democrats.
Tweeted the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: “Trump irresponsibly vows to shut down govt if his immoral, ineffective & unnecessary #borderwall isn’t funded by the American taxpayer.”
Trump could follow through on his threat to shut down the government by blocking any funding bill sent to the White House by Congress. If he doesn’t sign a funding bill, or if he vetoes one, it would lead to a partial shutdown. This means that national parks would close, many federal agencies would suspend certain operations, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be sent home indefinitely without pay.
The last government shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, 2013, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) led a conservative revolt against the Affordable Care Act. The number of federal employees placed on furlough during that shutdown peaked at 850,000 workers, with federal employees losing a total of 6.6 million work days, the Obama administration said at the time. Economists also believe that the shutdown had a negative impact on economic growth, though they disagree on precisely how much.
Federal workers are typically repaid for their lost wages during a shutdown, but it can cause financial strain while they wait for lawmakers to sort out differences.
Last week, Goldman Sachs issued a research note estimating that there was a 50 percent chance that Trump could lead the country into a government shutdown.
“Low approval ratings raise legislative risks,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. “In the near term, we believe there is a 50% chance of a brief government shutdown, as the president seeks to solidify support among his base by embracing more controversial positions, despite needing Democratic support to pass spending legislation.”