Political News

Trump Again Threatens Shutdown Over His Wall

Posted July 30, 2018 8:50 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2018 8:56 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump reiterated Monday his threat to shut down the federal government this fall if Congress does not deliver on Republican demands to crack down on immigration by enforcing security on the border with Mexico and building his long-promised wall.

“If we don’t get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” Trump said during a 40-minute news conference with Giuseppe Conte, the visiting Italian prime minister. “We’re the laughingstock of the world.”

Trump repeated his vow for the second time in two days, continuing to rattle those in his party who are leery of a difficult midterm election season and are focused on confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

If potentially throwing his party into disarray bothered the president, it did not show.

“We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world,” Trump added.

Aside from serving as a vehicle for two populist leaders to voice their immigration concerns, the news conference was the first time Trump had taken questions from journalists since a taped conversation surfaced between him and Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer, in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump. The conversation, taped weeks before the 2016 election, showed that Trump knew about the payments, a fact that his campaign had denied.

His comments on immigration did not find a welcome reception on Capitol Hill, where Republicans staring toward November’s elections were quick to distance themselves. The party risks losing control of one or both chambers, and its leaders have made abundantly clear they see no upside to a messy government shutdown in the weeks before voters cast their ballots.

“Obviously up here, we want to keep the government up and functioning,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I’m not sure where the president is coming from.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, chalked the comments up to a negotiating technique — though perhaps an ill-advised one.

“He knows the game,” Hatch said. “But we don’t want to do that again. Nobody wants that.”

Republican leaders in both chambers expect to pass the majority of the 12 appropriations bills necessary to keep the government operating before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Between those bills and a short-term spending measure to bridge the gap, they believe they can push off any potential fights — including over border-wall funding — until later in the fall.

That, at least, was the plan Republican leaders pitched last week to Trump at the White House. They left thinking they had reached a mutual understanding.

“I was a little surprised that he brought it back up again,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “But I know it’s really a burr under his saddle.”

Democrats, who have fought against funding for Trump’s wall at every turn, quickly turned the comments to their advantage, painting Trump as an erratic and irresponsible negotiator.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Mr. President, you cannot — in the same sentence — talk about security of this country and call for a government shutdown,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote on Twitter. “A government shutdown threatens our economy and our country’s safety.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, dismissed the comments as a “red-meat toss.” He said the reactions of Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, who could stand to catch the blame in such a scenario, made clear that Trump was on his own.

“Oh, we can’t take him seriously on this,” he said Monday evening. “His statements on the wall have been unintelligible.”

Conte’s visit, coming as those in Trump’s party grappled with his comments on immigration, appeared to be a welcome one for Trump. During the visit, Trump repeatedly emphasized their similarities as populist leaders who rose to victory by promising to crack down on immigration. Trump praised Conte’s similarly hard-line stance to tightening his country’s borders, saying at one point that their views on immigration had been a significant factor in both of their election victories.

“We are outsiders to politics, can you believe it?” the president asked Conte, another leader elected to office amid the anti-establishment waves sweeping through Western governments.

At one point, Conte was asked about Trump’s behavior at the NATO summit meeting, where the president this month seemed to attack his closest Western allies and strike a conciliatory stance with Russia. As Trump smiled and listened, the prime minister praised him as someone who brought “fruitful exchanges” to the table with his allies.

“He’s a great negotiator,” Conte added.

As he escorted Conte away from reporters, cameras and microphones, Trump ignored multiple shouted questions about Cohen.