US govt shutdown looms as Trump stands firm on wall

Troops helping US Customs and Border Protection to install concertina wire near the US-Mexico border wall near the Otay Mesa port of entry, in San Diego, California. The Democrats, who oppose the construction of a concrete barrier, have shown little
Troops helping US Customs and Border Protection to install concertina wire near the US-Mexico border wall near the Otay Mesa port of entry, in San Diego, California. The Democrats, who oppose the construction of a concrete barrier, have shown little sign of giving in to President Trump's US$5 billion (S$6.89 billion) demand for a border wall.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump told House Republican leaders that Congress must accede to his demand to include US$5 billion (S$6.89 billion) for a southern border wall in a hefty year-end spending Bill, intensifying a fight over one of his signature campaign promises that could lead to a partial government shutdown next week.

With less than 10 working days to wrestle out the details of an anticipated seven-Bill spending package and deliver a measure to the President's desk, Democrats have shown little sign of giving in to Mr Trump's demands. But House Republican leaders said after a private White House meeting on Tuesday that Mr Trump would not back down, and sought to turn Democrats' opposition against them.

"Are they going to shut down the government because they don't want to keep America safe?" Representative Steve Scalise from Louisiana told reporters.

"I think that's a question a lot of Democrats are going to be answering very soon."

In an interview with The Washington Post published after the meeting, Mr Trump signalled a willingness to compromise with Democrats, who oppose the construction of a concrete barrier, saying: "I might get it done another way." The President has made similar threats over wall funding before, only to back down.

The Democrats, for their part, have long contended that they have no objections to strengthening border security - including reinforcing existing fences - but instead object to the physical structure Mr Trump has spent years describing on the campaign trail.

Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, floated the possibility of providing the US$5 billion in funding demanded by the President, but dividing the amount over two years.

 
 
 

But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Minority Leader, said Democrats would stick to a deal they negotiated with Republicans this year to spend US$1.6 billion on border security, adding that Mr Trump would bear responsibility for any lapse in government operations.

Democratic votes are needed to cross the 60-vote threshold for spending Bills in the Senate.

"If there's any shutdown, it's on President Trump's back," Mr Schumer told reporters at the Capitol.

Faced with that Democratic opposition, senior House and Senate officials said they were now resigned to the likelihood that if they could not find a way to garner bipartisan support for the money, there would be a partial government shutdown as early as next Friday.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2018, with the headline 'US govt shutdown looms as Trump stands firm on wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe