As Trump renews border wall demands, US government shutdown looms

US military march next to the US-Mexico border wall near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry border crossing in San Diego, California.
US military march next to the US-Mexico border wall near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry border crossing in San Diego, California.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's renewed demand for United States taxpayer funding of his proposed US-Mexico border wall was threatening again on Tuesday (Nov 27) to bring on a Budget standoff and a partial government shutdown, leaving Congress with just 11 days to act.

With time running short, Mr Trump and Republican leaders of the US House of Representatives huddled at the White House.

Representative Steve Scalise, who attended the meeting, later told Fox News: "It's all about border security and US$5 billion (S$6.89 billion) is the number (for the wall)."

That figure is significantly higher than even Republicans in the Senate have sought and Democrats have rejected.

An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan would not comment on the US$5 billion figure, saying only that there was discussion of the need for "responsible funding for border security".

By Dec 7, Congress must pass a spending Bill, estimated at US$312 billion, to keep some government agencies funded, including the Department of Homeland Security, which polices the border and immigration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet the incoming Foreign Minister of Mexico on Sunday to discuss immigration, a top White House official said.

"They will have a full conversation about all the issues in connection with the border," White House national security adviser John Bolton told reporters.

Washington's focus on the Mexican border coincides with televised images of US border police lobbing tear gas canisters over a border fence in Southern California on Sunday into crowds of asylum-seekers, mostly from Central America.

Even with the divisive Nov 6 congressional elections over, Mr Trump has continued to rail against thousands of migrants in a caravan travelling from violence-ridden Central American countries to seek asylum in the US.

 
 
 
 

The latest border incident was unlikely to shift the partisan split in Congress over Mr Trump's proposed US$23 billion wall, with many Republicans in favour and most Democrats against, Senator Marco Rubio told reporters.

"People here are pretty dug in," said Mr Rubio, a Republican.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester, who like Mr Rubio is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, predicted that a border security deal would be struck in coming days.

But a House Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said in a telephone interview that, at least for now, talks over Homeland Security's Budget were "a total mess".

The US$5 billion House Republicans tout for Mr Trump's wall, compares with US$1.6 billion Senate Republicans have sought for this fiscal year.

The Trump administration would like the entire US$23 billion up front, fearing that a House run by Democrats next year would never fully fund the long-term costs.

Mr Rubio said more "physical structures" are needed to reinforce the border.

But, he said "the ultimate border security is to help address... the causes of people leaving Guatemala and Honduras" and fleeing to the US.

Under Republican control of the Senate and House in recent years, US spending on combating violence and promoting the economies of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras has declined.

Meanwhile, despite Mr Trump's efforts to make immigration more difficult, the number of illegal crossings has risen.

US Customs and Border Protection said in the fiscal year that ended on Sept 30 that apprehensions on the south-west border of unaccompanied children rose 21 per cent from the previous year to 50,000, while family apprehensions were up 42 per cent to more than 107,000.

As Mr Trump gears up for his 2020 re-election bid, he is expected to hammer on his 2016 campaign pledge to stop illegal immigration, raising fears that he might not back down, as he has before, from a threat to close the government.

"Life is hard, but it's harder when you're stupid. A government shutdown would be stupid," said Republican Senator John Kennedy, also an Appropriations Committee member.

"But if we can't agree on the Budget, we can't agree on the Budget," he added.