Trump, Pelosi take hard line on border wall funds ahead of lame-duck session
President Donald Trump hedged Wednesday when asked whether he would be willing to provoke a government shutdown in the weeks ahead to extract billions of dollars for a border wall from Congress before Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in January.
“I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. No, I can’t commit to that, but it’s possible,” Trump said at a news conference.
Until the new Congress is sworn in, Republicans are still operating with a slim two-seat majority in the Senate and an advantage of more than 40 seats in the House. The GOP will have at least two additional Senate seats in January after Tuesday’s elections, but Democrats are lined up to have a significant majority in the lower chamber.
“Yes, we have a better situation in the Senate in the new year, but we have a worse situation in the House,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
Congressional leaders on both sides acknowledge they have much on their agenda for their lame-duck session and not a whole lot of time to get it all done.
“I think it will be a relatively lively lame duck,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Associated Press last month. “Sometimes they just sort of go to sleep after the election. But we have too much left to do to have a quiet lame duck.”
One issue that will need to be dealt with one way or another is keeping the whole government open past Dec. 7. Lawmakers already passed about half of the appropriation bills they need to fund the government for 2019, but other departments—including Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice—are due to run out of money unless new funding bills are passed.
President Trump has demanded the Homeland Security budget include funds for a southern border wall, one of his signature campaign promises. Trump has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government over border security, but Republican leaders convinced him to delay that fight until after the midterm elections.
“We’re certainly going to try help the president achieve what he’d like to do with the wall and border security,” McConnell said at a news conference Wednesday.
Trump has spoken recently of seeking full funding for the wall, but the White House only requested $1.6 billion for 2019, which is what the Senate version of the DHS appropriations bill contains. The House version includes $5 billion, but Trump has indicated he wants even more.
“We need the money to build the wall — the whole wall — not pieces of it all over. And we are doing it,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Despite Trump’s confidence, Democrats believe their victories in the House lend them additional leverage in negotiations.
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“Why would we compromise on the wall now?” House Minority Leader and probable future Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, though she added there are bipartisan ways to secure the border she supports.
The two sides have come close to a deal before involving the border wall and the so-called Dreamers who were protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump attempted to end that program by executive order, but the issue remains mired in lawsuits.
Earlier this year, according to The Washington Post, the White House proposed three years of protection for the 700,000 already enrolled in the DACA program in exchange for $25 billion for the wall. Democrats countered with a plan that would have allowed a pathway to citizenship for the broader dreamer population of 1.8 million immigrants. Trump rejected that deal unless it also included controversial changes to legal immigration programs.
With the election behind them, experts say neither side has much to lose in the short-term from drawing a line in the sand over the wall.
“Democrats have no incentive to agree to funding that they have steadfastly oppose except in the context of a broader immigration policy agreement,” said Richard Arenberg, who worked on Capitol Hill for decades and co-authored “Defending the Filibuster: Soul of the Senate.”. “They will doubt that Republicans will be willing to cause a shutdown.”