Trump, Democrats dig in for fight over border-wall funding
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WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders were digging in Wednesday for a fight over government funding, a day after a combative White House meeting with President Donald Trump that seemed to raise the likelihood of a partial government shutdown.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was holding parts of the government “hostage to a petty campaign pledge” to build a border wall with Mexico in order to “fire up” his political base.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, said they have the votes in the House to approve Trump’s request for $5 billion for the southern border wall in a must-pass spending bill — but weren’t sure they wanted to bring it up with no assurance that the plan could get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.
The burden “is on the Senate to negotiate what they can get with 60 votes,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. , a member of House leadership and a key vote-counter.
“It is my hope and it’s my thought that the Senate should work this thing out,” McHenry said.
That appeared unlikely Wednesday, as Democrats reiterated their opposition to spending more than $1.6 billion on border security and Republicans urged Trump to remain steadfast.
“This is a fight we’re going to have. He needs to dig in and not give in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a key Trump ally.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the central question is, “Who’s going to give? The president doesn’t look to me like he’s going to budge. I don’t think he’s bluffing.”
Kennedy said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi appeared to be calling the shots for Democrats, “and she’s not going to make any concessions because she wants to be the next speaker.”
The funding fight is something leaders of both parties had hoped to avoid as Congress seeks to wrap up its work for the year and adjourn for the holidays. But Trump, who for months had suggested he’d be willing to force a shutdown over wall funding, dashed hopes for a quick resolution on Tuesday, sparring with Pelosi and Schumer during an extraordinary Oval Office meeting that he made sure played out in front of television cameras.
Trump told the Democrats he will be “proud to shut down the government” in the name of border security, declaring: “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”
Schumer said the American people will “suffer needlessly” if Trump follows through on his threat to shut down parts of the government as of Dec. 21 unless he receives the $5 billion he is demanding.
On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump said a deadly shooting attack in France shows the need for the border wall.
“Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to get additional Border Security!” he wrote, referring to Schumer and Pelosi.
But the suspect accused of spraying gunfire at a Christmas market in the city of Strasbourg on Tuesday is a French native, not an immigrant. Police were hunting Wednesday for Cherif Chekatt, born in Strasbourg and well-known to law enforcement.
Meanwhile, House Republicans debated whether to try to pass the wall funding to put pressure on Democrats, but it was far from clear if that plan would succeed. With many Republicans who lost bids for re-election or retired staying away from the Capitol, finding enough GOP votes to approve the wall remained a steep challenge.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who supports Trump’s $5 billion request for the wall, said House leaders were “working through” the funding bill. Asked if the House would vote on the $5 billion request, McCarthy said, “That’s the number I always search for.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is set to become the No. 3 House Republican in January, said House Republicans “stand ready to pass whatever the Senate can get passed” and Trump will sign.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the Oval Office spectacle likely helped Republicans get the votes needed in the House to approve Trump’s $5 billion wall request. Republicans were incensed at Pelosi’s repeated statements to Trump that he does not have the votes for the wall in the House.
“There’s nothing like the other side saying ‘You can’t get this’ to make it easier for GOP leaders to say to wavering Republicans, ‘Hey guys we need you on this one,’ ” Cole said.
Still, the question remains, Cole said: “Why ask people to take a hard vote when you know it’s going nowhere in the Senate?”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who lost his bid for re-election, said he would oppose the $5 billion request unless it also includes relief for young immigrants who face deportation after Trump moved to terminate a program that allows them to remain in the country.
“I’m for border security, but I’m also for preserving the potential deal we’ve been talking about for some time” on immigration, said Curbelo, who supports a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants known as Dreamers.
Schumer said Wednesday it is “nearly impossible” to negotiate with Trump, accusing the president of peddling “blatant and dangerous falsehoods” about the wall, including his widely refuted claim that Mexico will pay for it.
If the two sides do not make a deal by Dec. 21, about one-quarter of the government will be affected, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.