Border wall to be built ‘one way or the other,’ says Donald Trump

A bipartisan Senate effort to avert a government shutdown is gaining steam, even as US President Donald Trump vowed that he’d get his border wall built — eventually.

“One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!” Trump said in a Wednesday morning Tweet, in which he also accused Democrats of fighting Republicans “like cats and dogs when it comes to spending on Boarder Security (including a Wall) and the Military.”

Underlying Trump’s declaration of confidence in ultimate victory was an acknowledgment that the White House has retreated from an immediate confrontation over the president’s demand for $5 billion in wall money.

White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that Trump could be open to the stopgap spending bill under discussion in the Senate, which a person familiar with the negotiations said would finance the government until Feb. 8,.

“He’ll take a look at it certainly,” Conway said.

Trump is still ‘working the phones’ with lawmakers to see what kind of a deal can be reached, she said.

Democrats also are agreeable to that date, said a Democratic leadership aide. Both people were granted anonymity to talk about the proceedings.

In a further sign of retreat, Trump said Tuesday night on Twitter that Democrats don’t want a concrete wall, “but we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it.” He said it would “give our Country the security that our citizens deserve.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Tuesday night he’s coordinating with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will decide if and when to seek a vote. Shelby said he began work on the bill after concluding that a long-term resolution probably wouldn’t be found before a shutdown would begin on Friday night.

Earlier Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders urged the Senate to pass “something,” and said the White House would decide its next step after that.

The window for a larger year-end deal resolving the standoff is closing, although talks between Senate leaders in both parties haven’t halted altogether, a person familiar with the talks said Tuesday night. Nine of 15 government departments would shut down after Friday if Congress doesn’t provide new funds. Others, including the Defense Department, have already been financed through next September.

McConnell said earlier Tuesday that all sides want to avoid a shutdown, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said his party would seriously consider a short-term spending bill into early next year.

Trump said earlier at the White House that it was “too early to say” whether a shutdown could be avoided. Shelby said he believed the president would sign a short-term spending bill, but he didn’t have any direct assurances that Trump would do so.

Schumer rejected a Republican proposal to move about $1 billion into what he called “a slush fund” for the president’s immigration priorities. “Let me be clear: the Republican offer would not clear either chamber,” he said.

The fuller battle over the wall funding may become more difficult early next year with Democrats in control of the House. Trump said last week he would be “proud” to shut the government if it would force Democrats to provide the $5 billion he’s seeking for the wall.

Six of 15 government departments — representing about three-quarters of discretionary spending — are funded through next Sept. 30, under legislation passed and signed by Trump earlier this year.

A partial shutdown would hit agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice and Interior. More than 420,000 federal employees would work without pay and more than 380,000 workers would be sent home.

Sanders said Tuesday the administration was looking into whether funds from various agencies could be used to fund a wall, though it was unclear whether the administration had authority to do it.

“We are looking at existing funding through other agencies right now that we can draw on to do that immediately,” she said at a briefing. She also repeated Trump’s unexplained assertion that additional revenue resulting from the revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada would provide more than enough revenue to pay for the wall.

Democratic leaders this month offered Trump $1.3 billion for border fencing after earlier this year backing $1.6 billion. McConnell on Tuesday proposed to Schumer a plan that would provide $1.6 billion for border security in addition to $1 billion for Trump’s immigration priorities. The additional funding couldn’t be used for a wall, according to a person familiar with the matter.

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, called Sanders’s remarks “a hopeful sign” that a partial shutdown could be avoided before government funding expires for nine government departments and various independent agencies.

Trump has previously suggested he might turn to the military to build a wall on the southern US border. When Sanders was asked during an interview on Fox News on Tuesday morning whether the administration would seek to use defense funds, she didn’t rule it out.

“There are certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use, that we can couple with the money that would be given through congressional appropriations that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our border,” she said.

Cornyn said it was unclear what authority could be used to shift money to border security from other government accounts.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California objected. “The wall isn’t about money,” she said. “The wall is about morality. It’s the wrong thing to do. It doesn’t work. It’s not effective.”

First Published: Dec 19, 2018 20:17 IST

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