Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.
Senate Republicans, back in Washington after a two-week recess, tip-toed around threats made by President Donald Trump to potentially shut down the government over funding a border wall, as lawmakers negotiate on spending bill that will need to be passed by the end of the week.
While stressing the need for technology and personnel, GOP senators hinted at a shift towards funding a broader border security measure, with the details for what funds actually go to a physical wall to be worked out later.
“I know it’s being generally referred to as a border wall, but I think it’s the efforts that border patrol can have adequate funding for the people, technology and infrastructure they think they need to secure it,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday. “I think we can be less prescriptive about exactly what the structure looks like, and more focused on the fact that we need to secure the border.”
Most Republicans withheld criticism of Trump’s calls for a border wall, which was a central campaign promise during his presidential run, but cautioned that the government funding bill will need Democratic votes to pass in the upper chamber.
“I wouldn’t mind funding a wall, but it’s a question of what we can do up here,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a member of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “We’ve got to do what’s doable, and not shut the government down.”
Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) didn’t go into much detail about the current status of negotiations, but said that “there is some language in there” when asked about the Trump administration’s demands for border wall funding.
Other Republicans were more explicit in declaring that a funding bill that included appropriations for a literal, full-length border wall would be a deal-breaker.
“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built. Period,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters, calling the wall a “a bridge too far,” whilst laughing about the mixed metaphor.
“[Trump] is never going to get appropriations for that. But he’s right to insist on more border security,” he added.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reiterated in a floor speech Monday that border wall funding would be a “non-starter” for Democrats.
In interviews and on Twitter, Trump has amped up his desire to fund a physical wall, which on the campaign trail he said Mexico would pay for. He and his deputies have floated using payments for Obamacare subsidies insurers as leverage to get Democrats to vote for a bill with border wall funding.
Asked Sunday on Fox News whether Trump would sign a spending bill that didn’t include border wall appropriations, his Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, “We don’t know yet.”
The pressure comes as Republican legislative leaders have signaled they were seeking to avoid poison bills in the funding legislation, which must be passed by Friday at midnight to avert a shutdown.
Before recess, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the Appropriations Committee who also is in Senate GOP leadership, said that funding for the wall would likely be dealt with outside this month’s must-pass legislation, as other explosive issues, such as the push to defund Planned Parenthood, were taken off the table as potential shutdown issues.
Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), another Appropriations Committee member, said Monday that there are some areas of the border he would like to see a physical wall, but other areas where “you’ve got to have a bunch of technology down there” because “ it “would be very, very difficult to build a structure.”
“I want to get it done, I’m not really married to a particular part getting done first,” Boozman said.
Asked if the White House was on board going that direction, Boozman added, “I think that [Department of Homeland Security Secretary John] Kelly understands that.”