President Trump’s threat to shut down the federal government over his demand for $1.6 billion in border wall money could upend delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to keep the government open and funded past Sept. 30, further entrenching Democrats against what they see as an unpopular president scrambling to appeal to his base of supporters.
During a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump leveled his latest threat about blocking new government funding if it doesn’t include the $1.6 billion he wants to partially construct a new wall along the Mexico border.
“Build that wall,” he said. “Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”
Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are holding their ground in opposition to Trump’s proposal. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated their objections to funding a wall and argued that Trump would be responsible if the government shuts down over the impasse.
“If the President pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” Schumer said in a statement.
Trump’s threat Tuesday night during a campaign-style rally in Phoenix instantly raised the stakes for the showdown over government spending that awaits lawmakers. Federal spending authority expires in a little more than a month, requiring Congress to act to keep the government fully operating past Sept. 30.
Many Republicans are hoping to include border wall funding in any deal to keep the government open, and key conservative lawmakers have rallied to Trump’s side. But Democrats on Wednesday showed no sign of backing down.
“Last night, President Trump yet again threatened to cause chaos in the lives of millions of Americans if he doesn’t get his way,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Make no mistake: The President said he will purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall.”
Trump, escalating a conflict that has been brewing for months, told supporters Tuesday night: “Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America’s safety at risk.”
During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed to force Mexico to build a wall along the U.S. border that he said could be as much as 50 feet tall. Since the election, he has changed course, saying that Congress instead needs to authorize $1.6 billion for the next fiscal year to begin construction of parts of the wall. There is already a wall or fence along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security prepared an internal report earlier this year that estimated the cost of constructing a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border would be $21.6 billion. Trump has chafed at that estimate, saying he could get the cost to come “way down.”
On Wednesday, a committee that raises money for Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee sent an email to supporters calling on them to pressure Senate lawmakers that “the American VOTERS want this beautiful, impenetrable wall constructed.”
It went on to ask supporters to digitally sign an “Official Build The Wall Petition.”
Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has weighed in yet on Trump’s remarks, but some prominent conservative lawmakers are urging Republicans to support the president.
“Congress would do well to join the President by keeping our own commitments and including border wall funding in upcoming spending measures,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter before Tuesday’s rally.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another influential voice within the group, repeated the same message. “Secure borders are vital to natl security — Congress shld fund border wall in govt funding legislation this fall — time to keep our promise,” he tweeted Tuesday.
Rasmussen Reports, a Republican firm, conducted a poll of likely U.S. voters late last month and found that a solid majority of Americans oppose building a border wall, with 37 percent supporting Trump’s proposal versus 56 percent against. That is largely unchanged from a poll conducted in February by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that found Americans opposed the wall 62 percent to 35 percent.
House Republicans voted last month to provide the $1.6 billion in seed funding for the border wall as part of a larger spending package. That bill is expected to be taken up in the Senate, where Democrats can filibuster any measure that funds the wall or includes other GOP provisions that they have termed “poison pills.”
A 2017 spending bill passed into law earlier this year did not include border wall funding after Democrats refused to accept it. That impasse increased pressure on Republicans to deliver wall funding in a future spending battle.
Democrats uniformly slammed Trump’s remarks, with several calling the president’s speech “unhinged” on Twitter.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called Trump’s threat the “polar opposite of leadership” and said the president should be held accountable if the government shuts down.
“Wasting tens of billions on a useless and immoral border wall is a nonstarter for Democrats, particularly at a time of such real need in our communities. Congress should use this funding to help American families — not fulfill campaign applause lines,” Lowey said Wednesday in a statement.
Rank-and-file Democrats and several caucuses representing them took to Twitter Tuesday to double down on that position.
“Threatening to shut down the gov’t for a campaign promise and a wall we don’t need is irresponsible and reckless,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, tweeted from an account representing the panel’s Democrats.
Tweeted the Congressional Hispanic Caucus: “Trump irresponsibly vows to shut down govt if his immoral, ineffective & unnecessary #borderwall isn’t funded by the American taxpayer.”
Trump could follow through on his threat to shut down the government by blocking any funding bill sent to the White House by Congress. If he doesn’t sign a funding bill, or if vetoes one, it would lead to a partial government shutdown. This means that national parks would shut down, many federal agencies would suspend certain operations, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be sent home indefinitely without pay.
The last government shutdown came from Oct. 1 until Oct. 17, 2013, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) led a conservative revolt against the Affordable Care Act.
The number of federal employees placed on furlough during that shutdown peaked at 850,000 workers, with federal employees losing a total of 6.6 million work days, the Obama administration said at the time. Economists also believe that the shutdown negatively impacted economic growth, though they disagree on precisely how much.
Federal workers are typically repaid for their lost wages during a shutdown,but it can cause strain while they wait for lawmakers to sort out differences.
Last week, Goldman Sachs issued a research note estimating that there was a 50 percent chance that Trump could lead the country into a government shutdown.
“Low approval ratings raise legislative risks,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. “In the near term, we believe there is a 50% chance of a brief government shutdown, as the president seeks to solidify support among his base by embracing more controversial positions, despite needing Democratic support to pass spending legislation.”