Political News

‘Shut It Down’: Trump Threatens Government Shutdown Over Border Security

Posted February 6, 2018 4:07 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump revived his threat Tuesday to shut down the federal government if Congress cannot agree to a spending deal that tightens the nation’s immigration laws.

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” Trump said to reporters after a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss gang-related violence. “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety,” he added, “let’s shut it down.”

But Trump’s comments, though combative, had little to do with the delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to keep the government open past Thursday, a fact that appeared to elude Trump.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were nearing a deal to raise statutory spending caps on military and nonmilitary spending. That deal could secure a major, two-year spending bill before the government is set to shut down Friday, sparing the country of the fiscal showdowns that continuously bedevil the government.

Trump’s remarks marked the second time in his presidency that he has brandished the threat of a government shutdown unless Congress agrees to finance the building of a border wall with Mexico. He did it last May, suggesting that the United States could use a “good shutdown” to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending.

It has been nearly three weeks since the last shutdown — a three-day closure that ended after Democrats won a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to negotiate a deal on immigrants who came to the United States illegally as young children.

Trump railed bitterly against the Democrats during that shutdown. “Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border,” he wrote in a tweet last month. “They could easily have made a deal but decided to play shutdown politics instead.”

Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican from a swing district in Virginia, took on Trump. “We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” she said.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also took a hard line on immigration during a visit to the Capitol. He said Trump is unlikely to extend a March 5 deadline, when the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is set to expire. And he again said the president has been more than generous in his offer to give 1.8 million young immigrants in the nation illegally a path to citizenship in exchange for a series of hard-line immigration policy changes.

“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants, and the president sent over what amounts to be 2 1/2 times that number, to 1.8 million,” he told reporters at the Capitol. “The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses.”

With less than 72 hours remaining to avert a shutdown, Republicans were moving on an entirely different track from the president. They were pressing for a vote on a short-term spending bill that included a full year of funding for the military, daring Democrats to oppose it. Immigration was not part of the equation.

Later Tuesday, the House planned to pass a temporary spending bill that would fund the government through March 23 while boosting military spending through September. Republicans are hoping to pressure Senate Democrats — especially the 10 up for re-election in states that Trump won — to go along or face harsh political consequences.

“Quite literally the safety of our service members and the security of our country is at stake,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.

The partisan standoff was playing out despite visible optimism from Senate leaders that a long-sought deal was in sight to raise strict statutory caps on military and domestic spending.

Such a bipartisan deal on spending levels could avert a crisis Friday and help clear the way for a long-term funding bill that would put an end to the series of temporary stopgap spending measures — and the drama that has gone with them — that have been needed since October, when the current fiscal year began.

“We are closer to an agreement than we have ever been,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said, referring to the negotiations over raising the spending caps.

In a possible sign of progress, Schumer paid a visit to the office of his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, on Tuesday morning. Schumer was tight-lipped after the session, telling reporters only that it was a “good meeting.” Congress so far has needed four temporary spending bills in four months to fund the government in fiscal 2018. The stopgap bill that is needed by the end of Thursday, when the current measure expires, would be the fifth.

“As Democrats have said for many months, this is a perversion of good government and the polar opposite of regular order,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “It is a truly shameful display of incompetence.”

But the effort to fund the government has been entangled in a series of other issues, including immigration policy, health care and whether any increase in military spending needs to be matched by increases in nonmilitary spending. A solution is complicated.

Hard-line conservatives in the House do not want to vote for any more stopgap spending bills that do not include a long-promised increase in spending for the military. But spending bills need Democratic support in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, and Democratic senators have insisted that they will not support an increase in military spending without an increase in domestic spending.

A short-term spending bill that merely maintains current spending levels could pass the Senate, but many House Democrats still say they will withhold their support for such a measure unless it protects from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. House Democratic leaders are urging a no vote, meaning Republican leaders cannot afford many defections.

And negotiations on the fate of such immigrants are stuck. Trump again took to Twitter on Tuesday to demand that any immigration deal include severely curtailed “chain migration,” the current immigration system which allows immigrants who become citizens or green-card holders to then sponsor family members. Instead, he wants to favor highly skilled immigrants in a “merit-based” system.

The spending measure expected to pass the House on Tuesday evening is likely to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where 44 members of the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter in December opposing such an approach. Passing the bill in the Senate will require 60 votes, meaning that those 44 Democrats, if they stick together, would be able to block it.

Democrats are eager to increase domestic spending along with military spending, and Schumer reiterated that view Tuesday morning. He said the House’s stopgap bill would not pass the Senate.

“Democrats have made our position in these negotiations very clear,” Schumer said. “We support an increase in funding for our military and our middle class. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t want to do just one and leave the other behind.”