By Niv Elis
Funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall is poised to be a central issue in this fall’s showdown over government funding.
Unless Congress approves a new funding bill, the government will shut down on Oct. 1.
Trump is demanding funds for the wall that was the centerpiece of his successful presidential campaign, but Democrats have warned they will vote en masse against any legislation that includes money for the wall.
“I don’t see Democrats going along with anything that funds the wall,” said one senior House Democratic aide.
That’s a huge problem, since Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass a bill to fund the government. In the Senate, Democrats can block legislation unless the GOP can get eight members of the minority to vote to end a filibuster.
While Trump and members of his administration have suggested that they might favor a “good shutdown,” congressional Republicans worry that it will fuel the notion that their party, which controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, is unable to govern.
In the near term, the most likely scenario is for Congress to approve a short-term continuing resolution in September that would fund the government for a matter of months.
On its own, the measure would not include funding for the wall and would keep the government funded at present levels. It could also be paired with a separate measure to raise the debt ceiling, another unpopular piece of legislation that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Congress must take action upon by Sept. 29.
Many Republicans will be unhappy about voting for a package that raises the borrowing limit but does nothing to reduce the deficit or increase defense spending. Mnuchin and the Trump administration are advocating for a clean hike to the borrowing limit, something tacitly endorsed by GOP congressional leaders.
“This is the cleanup work we have to do just to get through the month,” said a senior GOP aide.
As a result, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may have to rely on passing the measure with more Democratic votes than Republican ones, a tactic that helped lead the Republican conference to turn against his predecessor, John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The administration still hopes it can use the wall to get more Republican votes for the measure.
“My sense is that if the border wall will be part of this package, it’s a push that’s mostly coming from the White House, and it’s a way to get more Republicans on board,” said the same senior GOP aid.
But because funding for the wall would prevent Democrats from voting for the larger measure, it’s hard to see how it could ever be a part of a September deal.
The September measure is likely to fund the government for a few months. This would set Congress up to approve a larger omnibus package for the rest of the fiscal year later this fall.
It’s possible the wall funding could become a part of those negotiations, though the same standoffs are possible.
In addition, while the border wall remains a high priority for Trump, who made it a central campaign promise, some Republicans are wary of it.
Republicans from border states such as Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Reps. Will Hurd (Texas), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Steve Pearce (N.M.) have expressed doubts about the plan.
“The construction of a physical wall on the southern border will never be the solution. The only way to secure the border is through the use of modern technology and a comprehensive strategy for patrolling the border,” Pearce said in July after voting against the $1.6 billion House provision to fund some 28 miles of new border wall, plus a combined 46 miles of new and secondary fencing.
The provision passed, but the Senate has not yet taken up the measure.
A Pearce spokesperson said he might vote for a tweaked resolution further down the road that focused more on technological solutions.
It’s also difficult to see how Democrats will ever bend in their opposition to the wall, particularly with Trump embroiled in a new controversy over his equivocal statements casting blame both on white supremacist groups and those protesting them in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.
“I think the president has spent a lot of capital this past month, so I don’t know how effective the bully pulpit would be at this point,” said one Republican House aide.