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Trump, Dems stuck on border wall as partial government shutdown looms

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and lawmakers are locked into a showdown over funding for a border wall, threatening a partial government shutdown on Friday that would suspend some programs and idle thousands of federal workers over the holidays.

After a rancorous White House confrontation between Trump and Democratic leaders over the year-end spending bill in the White House this past week, the two sides seem farther apart than ever as the deadline approaches.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said that despite the threats, lawmakers will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to craft a spending bill and send it the the president.

“If he wants to shut down the government, it’s his decision and he owns it,” she said. “I just hope that doesn’t happen.”

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who sits on the House Appropriation Committee, said earlier this year that he is against allocating funding for border security that cannot be spent in the fiscal year for which it is directed. That would include building Trump’s wall.

Many GOP and Democratic appropriators take a similar view. Trump wants $5 billion allocated next year to begin construction, a request that House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., scoffed at during the White House meeting with Trump.

Democrats want Trump to sign off on a bill that funds the rest of government, and approve a continuing resolution that would put off a decision on border wall spending until the next Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

Amodei appeared annoyed by the stances taken by both sides. Asked about them, he grinned and said, “They’re full of s—-. You can quote me on that.”

The response sums up the mood of lawmakers in a lame-duck session who are eager to escape Washington for the holidays but worry that federal workers and contractors could be hurt by a shutdown.

75% of government already funded

Trump already has signed into a law a bill that funds 75 percent of the government, including all military branches, through Sept. 30, 2019.

But several departments remains unfunded and are part of the pending bill to provide funding for through the same date. Those departments include Interior, Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development.

Without funding, those departments, their agencies and programs would close until the deadlock is resolved.

Most Americans would unlikely see few direct effects of a partial shutdown, said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

“But closing our National Parks, shutting down vital housing programs and forcing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work without pay or be furloughed just days before Christmas will hit our economy at a time when many fear we are on the precipice of another recession,” Titus said.

In a shutdown, federal employees deemed “essential” would remain on duty. And following previous shutdowns, Congress has restored pay for those who were furloughed. That has not been the case, however, for thousands of federal contractors who were unpaid.

A shutdown could also mean closure of National Parks and public lands, although many are lightly staffed and operate on limited hours at this time of the year.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans and Democrats seem far apart on how to write a bill that can appease the president and muster enough Democratic votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

Senate Republicans maintain a razor-thin 51-49 majority.

Democrats negotiated homeland security spending that provides $1.6 billion for personnel, fencing, technology and other measures to boost enforcement. They are resisting tearing up the bipartisan agreement they have already reached.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would not agree to funding for a border wall, a Trump campaign pledge and one that he promised would be paid for by the Mexican government.

Playing to their bases

When Trump argued this week that the Mexicans would eventually pay through a newly negotiated trade deal, Pelosi openly scoffed at the statement and demanded the president provide proof of his claim.

While Trump has focused the border wall debate on illegal immigration, a political issue that has energized his social conservative political base, Democrats have characterized the discussion as anti-immigrant and xenophobic.

The Trump administration’s immigration policies were labeled “relentless attacks on immigrant communities or color” last week in a letter from Congressional Hispanic, black and progressive caucuses urging Democratic leaders not to provide funding for a border wall.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president’s request is reasonable.

And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second highest ranking GOP leader in the Senate, urged Democrats to work for a bipartisan solution, particularly in light of the caravans of asylum seekers that briefly forced the closure of the border in California in November.

Still, both sides appeared worlds apart.

The House will not return until Wednesday evening, just two days before a deadline to pass a spending bill, or a continuing resolution to keep the government running at current spending levels and push off a decision on border spending until next year.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said there is currently no deal in the works to avoid a shutdown.

“You guys got to see on full display where the president stands on this issue in the Oval Office,” Gidley said.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters, “I’m not optimistic right now.”

“Hopeful is a better word,” he added. “People are going to have to come together. My goal, I’m going to stay with it, is to fund the government.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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