President Donald Trump on Tuesday dropped his longstanding demand for Congress to set aside $5 billion for the border wall in a must-pass spending bill, clearing a major hurdle for lawmakers to pass a stopgap measure before the deadline at midnight Friday.
At a rare appearance in front of reporters, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump wants to avoid a government shutdown and will seek “other ways” to get funding for a wall along the southwest border.
“At the end of the day we don’t want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border from illegal immigration,” Sanders said, according to The Hill.
Sanders added that the White House has asked cabinet departments to identify unspent funds that can be used to build the border wall. Congressional Democrats have questioned whether the administration has legal authority to redirect funds that were appropriated for other purposes.
Trump’s abrupt reversal comes just days after a contentious public meeting with Democratic leaders, during which the president said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government if the funding bill did not include the $5 billion he wanted for the wall. The threat miffed GOP leaders, who are eager to avoid blame for failing to pass a spending bill that would fund the Department of Homeland security and six other cabinet agencies.
“The American people don’t like it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. “You remember my favorite country saying: There’s no education in the second kick of a mule. We’ve been down this path before, and I don’t believe we’ll go down this path again.”
Despite the administration’s change of tone, border security funding remains a sticking point on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Democratic leaders rejected a proposal by their GOP counterparts to include $1.6 billion for border barriers, plus an additional $1 billion that would be spent on immigration-related priorities other than the wall.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who will become speaker of the house in the next Congress, called the additional $1 billion a “slush fund” for Trump’s immigration agenda. Democrats are also seeking to slash some of the original $1.6 billion, which the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee approved earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers remain unsure about how much border wall funding a spending bill would have to include to win Trump’s approval. The president didn’t clarify his position in remarks to reporters Tuesday, saying only that “we need border security” in the bill.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said about the possibility of a shutdown. “It’s too early to say.”
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