President Trump said Monday evening that he is open to postponing his demand for Congress to finance his border wall with Mexico, journalists for conservative news outlets said after a White House reception. The White House confirmed Trump's comments. The president's insistence that Congress include $1.5 billion for the wall in a spending bill this week threatened to upend negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and lead to a government shutdown on Saturday.
The emerging deal is now expected to include money for border security, like smart technology and new border agents, but not the wall. Trump said he will still insist on wall funding in the fall, in the next budget showdown. It's not clear the politics will get any easier for Trump in the fall, with Democrats and many Republicans opposed to a coast-to-gulf wall. "There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "I think it's become symbolic of better border security. It's a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that's a bridge too far — but I'm mixing my metaphors." Peter Weber
The Trump White House is insisting that Congress include $1.4 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall in a spending bill that has to pass this week to avoid a government shutdown. Republican leaders in Congress are unenthusiastic about the demand, in part because they need Democratic support to pass a spending bill and Democrats are generally opposed to funding President Trump's border wall. So are many Republicans, including several who represent areas along the border. In fact, The Wall Street Journal found, "not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border" said they support the border wall funding request.
There are nine House members from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California whose districts abut the Mexico border, and eight senators from those states. The three GOP House members argue that the money would be better spent on other border-related measures, as do Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have voiced skepticism about Trump's wall, but they declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal about the budget request. All six Democratic House members and four border-state Senate Democrats were staunchly opposed to the wall.
White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who is pushing the funding demand, was unmoved. "You're always going to have constituencies within both parties that have local issues — we get that," he told the Journal, insisting that GOP leadership was on board because "they know it's a priority for the president." The representatives of border districts, even those advocating for stricter border security, say Trump's focus on a physical wall is misplaced and a waste of taxpayer money. Drug smugglers and human traffickers "will go over, through, or under physical barriers, sometimes pretty quickly," Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) told The Wall Street Journal. Last month, the newspaper found similar sentiments among Arizona's border ranchers, who strongly support Trump. Watch below. Peter Weber
The White House ups the odds of a government shutdown by demanding Democrats fund Trump's border wall
Calm and quiet negotiations aren't everyone's cup of tea. Congress has until April 28 to pass a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, and Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations committees have been working with Republican leaders to negotiate a spending package. Any spending bill will need the support of at least eight Democrats in the Senate to pass. On Thursday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the spending bill has to include some initial funding for President Trump's border wall with Mexico, and Democrats have to play ball.
"We have our list of priorities," Mulvaney said Thursday. "We want more money for defense. We want to build a border wall." He said the White House would be open to throwing some money at Democratic priorities, too — mentioning paying risk-sharing subsidies to insurance companies to cover low-income health care, important to keeping ObamaCare exchanges functioning — but Democrats have to support Trump's wall and other priorities, too. He stopped short of saying Trump wouldn't sign a bill without such funding, The Washington Post reports.
Democrats expressed disappointment that the White House was elbowing its way in. "Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand," said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Not only are Democrats opposed to the wall, there is significant Republican opposition as well." Mulvaney wasn't swayed, insisting Democrats agree to fund the wall. "If they tell us to pound sand, I think that's probably a disappointing indicator of where the next four years is going to go," he said
The cost of completing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ranges from $12 billion to $70 billion. During the campaign, Trump had insisted that he would somehow force Mexico to foot the costs. Peter Weber
Republicans don't seem eager to go to the mat to finance President Trump's border wall with Mexico, at least in the stopgap spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown. Still, on Tuesday, the White House sent Congress a request for an immediate cut of $18 billion from domestic programs to pay for the wall, The Associated Press reports, citing a Capitol Hill aide who described the unreleased documents.
The requested cuts reportedly include $1.2 billion from National Institutes of Health medical grants, $1.5 billion from community development grants, $500 million from a transportation grant program, $434 million to eliminate a program to encourage community service among senior citizens, and $372 million from heating subsidies for the poor.
As with Trump's 2018 budget plan, Congress will probably ignore Trump's requests, though building the wall is a high priority for Trump and the White House hasn't yet joined the 2017 spending negotiations. Democrats pounced anyway. "The administration is asking the American taxpayer to cover the cost of a wall — unneeded, ineffective, absurdly expensive — that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and he is cutting programs vital to the middle class to get that done," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). "Build the wall or repair or build a bridge or tunnel or road in your community? What's the choice?"
How much the wall would cost is an open question. Republicans estimate a price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion, a Homeland Security Department report put the cost at $21.6 billion, and on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested the final number could hit $66.9 billion. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she based her estimate on a briefing for committee staff in which the administration explained that its 2018 budget request of $2.6 billion for the wall would go toward constructing 75 miles of new wall. She did the math for the 1,827 viable miles of border, conceding that this wasn't a perfect way to get an accurate estimate.
"It is concerning that the cost of construction could also be significantly higher, as the cost of acquiring land currently owned by private individuals was not included in the estimate," McCaskill wrote to the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border protection. "Regardless, the $36.6 million per mile figure is the only information, and the closest to a cost estimate that the Committee has obtained from DHS." Peter Weber