WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump and White House officials have pressed congressional Republicans to use the looming threat of a government shutdown to win funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border, a top priority for the administration as it nears the symbolic 100-day mark on Saturday.
Mr Trump is scrambling to show progress on two leading priorities - healthcare reform and tax cuts - by then, even though he has dismissed the 100-day marker as a "ridiculous standard".
Yet, towards the end of his presidential campaign, Mr Trump embraced the 100-day marker he is now questioning. In a "Contract with the American Voter" issued by his campaign, Mr Trump had promised that, among other things, he would introduce and "fight for" 10 specific pieces of legislation in his first 100 days. These included Bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, dramatically cut taxes, spur US$1 trillion (S$1.39 trillion) in infrastructure investments and significantly expand school choice.
The only one of those 10 legislative items introduced to this point is the House healthcare Bill, which failed to pass.
However, last Friday, Mr Trump tweeted: "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!"
Number of legislative items introduced to this point. This was the House healthcare bill, which failed to pass.
Number of specific pieces of legislation Mr Trump promised he would introduce and "fight for" in his first 100 days, in a "Contract with the American Voter" issued by his campaign.
What can Mr Donald Trump accomplish before his 100th day in office, on Saturday?
That day could mark a government shutdown, depending on how events unfold at the White House and on Capitol Hill this week. Government funding will run out at the end of Friday unless lawmakers pass a stopgap measure.
Standing in its way is disagreement over funding for one of Mr Trump's campaign promises: a US-Mexico border wall. Democrats vigorously oppose this but a deal is possible if the funding Bill matches the expenditure on the wall, with subsidies needed to keep Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) going.
Although Republicans hold majorities in both chambers, Democrat support will be needed to pass the spending Bill in the Senate.
Republicans in Congress appear keenly aware that a shutdown would be blamed largely on them, despite Mr Trump's attempts to shift responsibility to the Democrats.
And some Democrats would plainly relish the political upside of a unified Republican government ushering in Mr Trump's 100th day by failing to keep the lights on.
Mr Trump has also suggested advancing this week a retooled version of the Republican healthcare Bill that failed last month in the House. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has made no specific commitment.
Also, Mr Trump has said he will reveal a "massive" tax cut proposal tomorrow. It seems sure to have plenty to annoy the Democrats, including likely tax cuts for corporations and high-income earners.
The President plans to mark his 100th day in office with a rally comprising supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - scheduled for the same time as the annual White House correspondents' banquet in Washington.
Mr Trump is the first sitting president to skip the dinner since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was recuperating from a gunshot wound.
WASHINGTON POST, NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS
The "S.C." was apparently a reference to Mr Trump's Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed this month after the Senate changed its filibuster rules over fierce objections from Democrats.
Mr Trump's push for fast action on the border wall is part of a mounting and, at times, tense scramble inside the administration to kick-start the President's agenda, even if it risks dire political consequences. Mr Trump wants funding for the wall to be included in the short-term spending Bill that is the focus of Congress this week. The Bill would keep the government open past April 28, but it has prompted a possible stand-off with lawmakers in both parties.
The Senate returned yesterday, and the House returns today from a two-week recess, leaving just three days when both chambers will be in session to work out a funding agreement. The wall, which experts say would cost US$21.6 billion and take 31/2 years to construct, has emerged as a crucial sticking point for the White House, with the President insisting privately and publicly that progress towards its funding and eventual construction must be showcased this week.
In a tweet on Sunday, Mr Trump chastised Democrats for not wanting "money from the budget going to the border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs" and gang activity, in his view.
Democrats have insisted that they will not vote for any spending Bill that gives the White House money or flexibility to begin construction of a border barrier. They believe that the Republicans will have to either abandon Mr Trump's demand or assume political responsibility if a shutdown occurs.
Mr Trump's tweets included a shot at Democrats in which he drew parallels between border wall funding and continued federal payments for subsidies needed to keep Obamacare going.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested on Sunday that the White House expects Democrats to cave on the border wall in exchange for guaranteed payments under Obamacare. But Democratic leaders have already rejected a White House offer to building into the spending Bill a dollar-for-dollar match in wall funding and federal healthcare payments.
Republicans expecting this week to be occupied with negotiations over the spending Bill to prevent a government shutdown were surprised when Mr Trump told the Associated Press that he would release a tax package this week that would include reductions "bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever".
He provided no specifics but said he would outline his plan on "Wednesday or shortly thereafter."