Trump’s wall jams GOP in shutdown talks

No one is predicting a government shutdown at the end of the week, but few can say exactly how Republicans will get out of their latest jam.

Top White House officials are insisting the government-funding bill include billions for President Trump’s “great wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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But it’s unclear how far they’re willing to push the matter: The federal government will shut down early Saturday morning unless negotiators strike a bipartisan deal to keep the lights on.

Democrats say money for a border wall is a deal breaker, and they have rejected talk of trading wall funds for a major Democratic priority that Trump has vowed to defund: federal subsidies for insurers who provide coverage to low-income ObamaCare enrollees. 

While Trump has downplayed the importance of Saturday being his 100th day in office, a rare government shutdown on that symbolic day would represent a huge political black eye for the new president just weeks after his ObamaCare repeal-and-replace effort imploded in the House.

For now, the chances of a shutdown appear very low.

Trump said late Monday that he is open to getting border wall money in the fall. 

The president reportedly made the comments to a group of political journalists.

GOP lawmakers and Appropriations Committee sources told The Hill it’s looking more and more likely a short-term stopgap measure may be needed to keep the government open past Friday, especially given that House lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday from a two-week spring recess.

Either a one- to three-day continuing resolution (CR) or a seven- to 10-day one would buy time for a longer-term measure to fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. 

“My guess is a short-term CR is needed, particularly with the push to fund the wall,” a senior House GOP lawmaker told The Hill on Monday.

The source was one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who said Monday that they support Trump’s push to fund the wall. They have noted that top Senate Democrats in 2006, including Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE, Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenObama tweets birthday message to Biden: 'The best vice president anybody could have' The Hill's 12:30 Report Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny MORE and now-Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (N.Y.), all voted to authorize construction of a border fence that year.

But the lawmaker acknowledged the GOP is in a difficult political position if it demands money for the wall at the risk of shutting down the government.

“We could win the debate on the border wall if we’re only arguing about the border wall, but the problem with a big bill like this is you’re almost never arguing about one subject,” the lawmaker said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said the GOP’s current predicament proves he was right when he urged his party during last year’s lame-duck session to pass a funding bill through September.

“It was a mistake not to do this last November and December,” Cole said in a phone interview. Now, Democrats “have a lot of leverage” because Republicans don’t want a shutdown when they control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I hope our leadership and the administration learn a lesson” that spending bills should get done sooner, he continued. “Here we are in an artificial crisis that didn’t need to exist.”

Trump has asked Congress for $1.5 billion this fiscal year so he can start construction of the wall, a central promise of his campaign. His 2018 budget request calls for another $2.6 billion for the wall.

The wall is a “very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” Trump warned in a pair of tweets Monday. “If the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be! #BuildTheWall.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday he could not “guarantee” there wouldn’t be a shutdown after Friday, but added: “We feel very confident the government is not going to shut down.”

But as he’s done in the past, Spicer would not say whether Trump would sign a spending bill that doesn’t include money for the wall. The president answered the question very similarly in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“I don’t want to comment. I just don’t know yet. I mean, I have to see what’s going on. I really do,” Trump said. “But the wall’s a very important thing to — not only my base, but to the people. And even if it wasn’t ... the wall is very important to stopping drugs.”

Even some anti-immigration hard-liners in the House are careful not to tie Trump’s hands and demand the omnibus include wall funding.

“This is clearly one of the key initiatives of the Trump campaign, and so I am sure that the president now wants to fulfill that promise,” conservative Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Trump ally, told The Hill.

“But I’m sure everyone recognizes that in the first 100 days, he is balancing a healthcare bill, a tax reform bill and a budget environment that has placed him in a very difficult position of turning the battleship around on a dime.”

As Republicans search for an escape hatch, some on the Hill are discussing a possible compromise with Democrats that could include more money for border security but not funds for a physical wall. That could include funds for more border patrol agents or surveillance drones.

Schumer, part of the quartet of congressional negotiators, said he believes the two parties can reach a funding deal by the end of the week.

But he blamed the White House for throwing a “monkey wrench” into the talks.

“If the administration insists on poison pill riders or extraneous funding requests, then our talks could get sidetracked, particularly if the administration demands funding for a border wall,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.

“Democrats have been long clear that the border wall is a nonstarter.” 

Naomi Jagoda and Sylvan Lane contributed to this report, which was updated on April 25 at 7:40 a.m.