With mere days before Friday’s deadline to continue funding the government, the White House is delivering mixed messages on whether President Trump will demand money for a border wall. But lawmakers, including many Republicans, signaled Tuesday that they are navigating around Trump’s about-faces and are close to sealing a deal to keep the lights on.
“We’re moving forward on reaching an agreement on a bipartisan basis to fund the government. Hopefully, we will reach an agreement some time in the next couple of days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at a press conference Tuesday following a Senate GOP lunch where Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance.
The assurances from McConnell came after the Trump administration seemed to waffle on its desire to get funding for a physical border wall in the government spending legislation currently being negotiated. At a reception Monday evening with conservative journalists, Trump reportedly said he would be willing to wait until the next major government funding deadline, likely in September, to secure appropriations for the wall. However, on Tuesday morning, some of his White House aides walked that back, suggesting that wall funding was still an administration demand for the current bill.
“The wall gets built, 100 percent,” Trump vowed Tuesday. But when pressed by reporters on the timing, the president would only say “soon.”
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, lawmakers took Trump’s apparent shift as a given and are moving forward in their discussions across the aisle with the assumption that the funding bill will contain appropriations for broader border security—including surveillance technology and personnel—as opposed to a physical barrier.
“I think Trump’s backed off the wall,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who had dinner with the president Monday evening. “I got the sense that he’s not going to take this fight too far. He understands border security is important, but he’s not going to overplay his hand.”
“I don’t know any more about the shift on the wall than you do. I just know what I’ve heard and read,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the Appropriations committee, told reporters earlier Tuesday. “But I think it’s an indication that both sides are at the moment when you need to come to a realization that the President has to have some Democrats in the Senate, and maybe even in the House, who will vote for the bill, and the Democrats have some things they would like to see happen with this updated bill that—they don’t happen unless the President will sign it.”
Coming out of the GOP lunch—the first conference-wide meeting among Senate Republicans since the two-week congressional recess—some Republican senators played down that there was any real threat of a government shutdown.
Sen. Rodger Wicker (R-MS) told reporters that there was never a “real chance” that would happen under unified Republican government. “We’re exactly where we want to be in terms of keeping the government open,” he said. “It looks like there are not going to be any hiccups.”
Others were less than satisfied that the budget negotiations are going down to the wire with a shutdown threat looming.
Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) emerged from the lunch with Pence visibly frustrated. “This is, frankly, professional malpractice,” he told reporters. “We are seven months past last year’s fiscal end. We’re now talking about another week’s delay to figure out how to fund the federal government.”
McConnell withheld any criticisms of Trump when asked about the White House’s involvement in negotiations, instead blaming Democrats for not being able to work with the administration.
Minutes later, at a press conference after lunch with his own Senate conference, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) shot back that he made it clear to McConnell that funding for a wall would be unacceptable to Democrats.
“I said, ‘Only you can persuade [Trump] that he shouldn’t do the wall because it will cause a government shutdown.’ And I don’t know if Senator McConnell played a role. If he did, more power to him. If he didn’t, I’m glad it worked out,” Schumer said.