WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday held out the possibility of a government shutdown before the November elections over his effort to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, even as Republican congressional leaders publicly urged him away from that path and predicted it wouldn’t occur.
“If it happens, it happens. If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do anything,” Trump said during a meeting with top Republican lawmakers, citing the need to protect the nation’s border by following through on his emblematic campaign promise. “If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do what has to be done.”
Trump’s stance on whether he’d force a shutdown has zigzagged. He’s previously suggested to lawmakers that he would not allow a government shutdown before the midterm elections. With Republicans running the White House, Senate and House, party leaders worry that voters would blame a shutdown squarely on the GOP, worsening their prospects for retaining congressional control.
Lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending bills to keep the government open. Top Republicans have said lawmakers are making progress toward completing some of the 12 annual spending measures by that date, but they have conceded that temporary extensions of some agency budgets are likely.
Seated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders, Trump said they would discuss “how we can responsibly fund the government, protect American taxpayers and defend American security.” He said the lawmakers had made progress.
Asked Wednesday whether he intended to urge Trump to not force a government shutdown this fall, Ryan, R-Wis., said, “No, I don’t think I have to do that.”
Ryan said he and Trump “talk all the time,” and added, “That’s not in anyone’s interest, and he knows that. I think the results will prove itself.”
Later on Fox News, McConnell said there was “zero” chance of a shutdown and said a battle over the border wall should wait until after the voters have spoken.
“We still are in favor of the wall, we still want to get funding for the wall, but we think the best time to have that discussion is after the election,” McConnell said.
Asked about past Trump comments that he might need a shutdown to win money for border security, No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana told reporters: “Clearly the president campaigned on securing the border and building a wall. We strongly support those efforts.”
But Scalise acknowledged unresolved differences between the House and Senate. House legislation provides $5 billion for wall construction for next year, while the Senate version has $1.6 billion.
Democrats and some Republicans oppose the wall as ineffective and a waste of money.
Congress is aiming to approve at least three compromise bills that would fund a large portion of the government, including the military and most civilian agencies, before the new budget year begins Oct. 1. A measure financing the Homeland Security Department, which would include money for the border wall, is considered likely to be extended temporarily until after the election.