President Trump threatened Thursday to veto a stopgap spending bill unless it includes billions of dollars to build a wall along the border with Mexico, sending large parts of the federal government lurching toward a shutdown starting Saturday.
“I’ve made my position very clear. Any measure that funds the government must include border security,” Trump said in an event at the White House. He added, “Walls work, whether we like it or not. They work better than anything.”
Trump’s comments on Thursday completely overturned the plan GOP leaders were patching together earlier in the day. With no other viable options available, they had hoped to pass the short-term spending bill approved by the Senate, averting a government shutdown set to start days before Christmas.
Many lawmakers had expected Trump to grudgingly accept the stopgap measure with Republicans about to lose their majority in the House, and his rejection set off a chaotic day in the Capitol.
House Republican leaders hurried to appease the president, pulling together a bill that would keep the government funded through Feb. 8 while also allocating $5.7 billion for the border wall. The House bill also included nearly $8 billion for disaster relief for hurricanes and wildfires.
The legislation passed the House on a near-party-line vote of 217 to 185 Thursday night, over strident objections from Democrats who criticized the wall as immoral and ineffective and declared the legislation dead on arrival in the Senate. No Democrats voted for the House measure, and eight Republicans voted against it.
In a late-night tweet, Trump thanked “our GREAT Republican Members of Congress” for the vote, adding: “Now on to the Senate!”
Trump also mocked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said in an Oval Office meeting last week that she did not think Trump could corral the votes to pass a spending bill with his requested wall funding.
“Nancy does not have to apologize. All I want is GREAT BORDER SECURITY!” Trump wrote.
Barely 24 hours away from a shutdown set to start at the end of Friday, the House vote only hardened Washington’s budget impasse: Democrats have the Senate votes to block any bill that includes funding for Trump’s wall, and Trump says he’ll veto any bill that doesn’t.
The chances of a shutdown are “certainly higher than they were this morning,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said after Thursday night’s House vote.
Funding for roughly 25 percent of the federal agencies whose budgets rely on Congress will expire at the end of Friday. The agencies affected deal with homeland security, law enforcement, national parks, transportation and housing, among others.
The rest of the government, including the military, would not be affected, as it’s funded through September by bills lawmakers passed earlier this year.
The impacted agencies would continue to perform some of their functions, but more than 100,000 employees are expected to be sent home without pay.
The White House hasn’t yet revealed the full impact of a partial shutdown, as it is up to each agency to implement its own plan. But it is clear the effects would be widespread: Close to 80,000 Internal Revenue Service employees would no longer come into work, and national parks that are locked at night would not reopen in the morning.
It can occasionally take several days for the full impact of a shutdown to kick in, and some agencies could remain open on Saturday but close by Monday.
Numerous agencies would be affected immediately, and some on Thursday seemed unprepared for the brinkmanship.
Officials from the Smithsonian Institution, Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate National Park and Gateway Arch either said they weren’t sure whether they would be open Saturday or didn’t respond to requests for comment.
A government shutdown could drag on for days or weeks, as Democrats have shown no willingness to budge from their refusal to finance a wall. Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in early January, giving them even more leverage in negotiations.
As Thursday night wore on, a partial government shutdown began to appear all but inevitable to many on Capitol Hill, though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) insisted that “there’s still plenty of time” to avoid one.
“I think you’ll find that we’ll be able to move forward and make sure we keep the government open,” McCarthy said after returning from the White House. “And also we believe we need border security.”
But the path forward was far from clear, and the 115th Congress threatened to end on a bitter note of dysfunction as House conservatives, who’ve waged numerous futile battles over the years, picked one last fight before sinking into the minority, this time backed up by the president.
Trump is scheduled to leave Friday afternoon for two weeks in Florida, but it was unclear whether he would do so amid a partial government shutdown.
He has repeatedly threatened a government shutdown since taking office, telling advisers it would be good politics for Republicans to demonstrate their resolve in building a border wall.
But many in the party saw it as impractical and have repeatedly worked to persuade the president to keep the government open. Trump was prepared for a shutdown this fall, but GOP leaders, fearful of a government closure weeks before the midterm elections, convinced him to sign legislation extending funding through December — in part by promising to fight for wall money at the next budget deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday warned Republicans they may have to return for a vote Friday. But it’s impossible for McConnell to pass a spending bill without support from Democrats, who have locked arms in opposition to any money for a border wall.
Senate passes bill to keep government open until February, undercutting Trump’s drive for border wall funding
Trump’s opposition to the short-term deal brings him full-circle. Last week, he told Pelosi, who is expected to return as House speaker in January, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he would be “proud” to shut the government down if he did not get the $5 billion for the wall.
On Tuesday, when it became clear that Trump did not have enough support in Congress for the $5 billion, the White House began backing down from the ultimatum. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump would find other ways to fund the construction of the wall.
On Wednesday, Trump wrote in a tweet that the military would build it, though a number of budget experts said that would be illegal, as money can’t be redirected without Congress’s approval.
When Trump appeared to be backing down, conservative media outlets and Congress’s most conservative members revolted, demanding the president rethink his decision. By Thursday, Trump was back to demanding his wall and insisting the money come from Congress.
Conservatives including members of the House Freedom Caucus encouraged the president to take a hard-line stance, arguing this was his last opportunity to try to extract any money for the wall.
“We have to fight now or America will never believe we’ll fight,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Republicans at a closed-door meeting Thursday.
“The time to fight is now. I mean, this is stupid,” said Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.).
As GOP leaders moved to adjust to Trump’s shifting stances, Democrats ridiculed the spectacle, even as they repeated promises that they would provide no money for Trump’s wall.
“I don’t know that anyone ever has any assurances from the White House on any subject including this one,” said Pelosi. “We’re right in the middle of a sort of a meltdown on the part of Republicans.”
The construction of a wall along the Mexican border was one of Trump’s top campaign promises in 2016, and he vowed to somehow make Mexico pay for it all. Since he won the election, he has demanded the money come from Congress, seeking between $1.6 billion and $5 billion. At one point, he even insisted Democrats give him $25 billion for the wall.
In tweets early Thursday, Trump had ripped Democrats and promised to fight for wall funding but still appeared ready to sign a measure to keep the government open. He claimed his initiatives to move more agents along the Mexican border had made it “tight” and said he would not support infrastructure legislation next year unless Democrats eventually agree to finance the construction of a wall.
“Remember the Caravans?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Well, they didn’t get through and none are forming or on their way. Border is tight. Fake News silent!”
The government’s Department of Homeland Security painted a much different picture of the situation just a few weeks ago. It reported that the number of people arrested or detained along the Mexico border reached a new high for the Trump presidency in November, as arrests of juveniles and parents with children continued to rise. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 25,172 members of “family units” in November, the highest number ever recorded.
Last week, Trump said terrorists were crossing the U.S. border and he also offered the unfounded claim that people with contagious diseases were entering the country. At Trump’s meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, the president said he would take responsibility for a government shutdown, upsetting many Republicans who had wanted to blame Democrats for any impasse.
Seung Min Kim, John Wagner, Josh Dawsey, Paul Kane and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.