Congress scrambles to avert shutdown as Trump weighs options


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday scrambled to prevent a partial shutdown of the federal government through passage of a temporary government funding bill as President Donald Trump gave mixed signals about whether he would sign off on the plan.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The legislation does not include $5 billion Trump demanded to build a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, his signature campaign promise. Trump attacked Democrats and Republican leaders on Twitter over the omission and the White House said he was “continuing to weigh his options” on whether he would sign it.

“At this moment, the president does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Last week in a meeting with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

He planned to meet with a group of House Republicans at noon EST, Sanders said.

The Senate passed the funding bill late on Wednesday but its fate in the House of Representatives was unclear. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly canceled a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning as his fellow Republicans grappled over several issues.

“We’re right in the middle of a sort of melt down on the part of Republicans,” Pelosi told reporters.

Rank-and-file House Republicans left a closed-door meeting with their leaders unsure whether Trump would sign the bill, which would keep about 25 percent of federal programs operating beyond midnight on Friday when existing money expires.

Trump said he begrudgingly signed off on funding earlier this year after Republican leaders “promised” him funding for the wall by the end of the year. “It didn’t happen!” he said on Twitter.

Trump also warned Democrats on Twitter that he would not sign any legislation without money for his wall, although it was unclear whether he was referring only to legislation Democrats might advance next year, when they take control of the House from Republicans.

The administration previously has said it would find unused funds from other departments to use for the border wall. Trump, who while campaigning in 2016 said Mexico would pay for the wall, recently has said the money would come from a trade deal with Mexico and Canada, although the mechanics of this were unclear.

UNRESOLVED ISSUES

House Republicans were still “trying to figure out” the precise contents of the bill the House would vote on, and were discussing whether to add in Trump’s demand for $5 billion for the wall, Representative Doug Collins told Reuters on Friday.

Another unresolved issue was whether to add in additional disaster relief funding for states hit by recent natural disasters, Collins said.

Pelosi said her members would reject a bill that included funding for the wall, calling it a “non-starter,” although she said they would be open to considering disaster relief aid.

Congress’ midnight Friday deadline was for funneling money to finance federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration and farm programs, to name a few.

But instead of resolving the budget impasse with a funding bill to keep several federal agencies operating through next September, the end of this fiscal year, the Senate approved only a seven-week extension of existing funds.

Democrats and several of Trump’s own Republicans have balked at money for a wall that the president argues would stop the illegal flow of immigrants and drugs into the United States.

With Democrats taking control of the House on Jan. 3, it will be even harder for Trump to win money for a border wall.

“When House Democrats assume control in two weeks, my primary focus will be to pass reasonable spending legislation that does not fund President Trump’s wasteful wall,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who in 2019 will chair the House Appropriations Committee, which writes government funding legislation.

Meantime, Trump administration officials were looking for ways to build the wall by reassigning money already doled out to U.S. agencies for other projects.

The White House has not provided details of that effort but leading Democrats have warned that shifting funds around in such a way would have to be approved by Congress.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows, the leader of a group of hard-right conservatives, told reporters that if this temporary spending bill is enacted, Republican candidates in 2020 will suffer.

“He (Trump) campaigned on the wall,” Meadows said. “It was the center of his campaign … the American people’s patience is running out.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Trott

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