The biggest fight looming for lawmakers in the lame-duck session is over President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s request to fully fund his proposed border wall, which he made a top priority while campaigning for GOP candidates this fall.
Republican leaders, leery of a partial government shutdown, are hesitant to push Trump’s demand to the brink. But lawmakers acknowledge it will be tough to resist the president if he insists on a hard-line position given his popularity with the GOP base.
Trump this week called on Congress to fully fund his border-wall proposal, setting the stage for a difficult negotiation that will stretch well into December.
“We need the money to build the wall, the whole wall — not pieces of it all over,” the president said at a White House press conference Wednesday. “I’d like to see the wall.”
Democrats are staunchly opposed to the idea. They argue that it’s bad policy and don’t want to give Trump a major accomplishment that he can take into his 2020 reelection campaign.
Yet, after Trump hammered Democratic candidates repeatedly over border security during the 30 rallies he held after Labor Day, Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (N.Y.) says he’s willing to give something to Trump.
“On the general issue of border security, we’ve had great discussions in the appropriations process. They’ve been bipartisan,” Schumer said Wednesday.
Schumer said “there are good agreements on border security and other things that are in the Homeland Security appropriation” and predicted Republican and Democratic leaders could “get something good done” as long as the president doesn’t interfere.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (R-Ky.) says he will push for Trump’s border wall funding but has tried to manage expectations ahead of the lame-duck session, noting he needs Democratic cooperation.
“We’re certainly going to try to help the president achieve what he’d like to do with regard to the wall and border security and that obviously will have be done on some kind of bipartisan discussion,” he said Wednesday, but added that he wants to avoid a partial government shutdown.
The wildcard will be Trump, who has in recent months threatened a government shutdown to force the Democrats’ hand.
Asked Wednesday if he would pursue a shutdown strategy, Trump replied, “Not necessarily.”
The president had previously said in September that he would be willing to let the Department of Homeland Security shutter if necessary to fund his border wall.
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do anything. We have to protect our borders.”
Trump could have a strong ally in House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Top Democrats tout California recall with an eye toward 2022 Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race MORE (R-Calif.), who has proposed legislation to fully fund the border wall and is running to become minority leader in the next Congress, when Democrats will have control of the House.
Democrats say they are not optimistic about negotiating a deal with Trump on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for funding the border wall. Trump tried to end the Obama-era program, which protected from deportation illegal immigrants who came to the country as children, but courts have blocked those efforts.
Schumer offered trading a DACA fix for the border wall in January but then quickly rescinded when Trump didn’t agree.
“As we’ve seen, the president’s a very poor negotiator on those issues. He makes agreements and he backs off so we’re sort of dubious of sitting down with the president and making that kind of exchange again when twice he’s shaken hands and backed off,” Schumer said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' MORE (Calif.), who is expected to become Speaker when the new Congress begins in early January, told The Wall Street Journal this week before the election results were in that she did not feel the need to concede anything to Trump on the border.
“Why would we compromise on the wall now?” she said.
Border security was a vulnerability for Senate Democratic incumbents such as Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (Mo.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (Mont.) in Tuesday’s election.
Trump and his Republican allies hit those candidates on the issue repeatedly, with the Democrats scrambling to adopt the president’s position.
McCaskill told voters “there’s no daylight between myself and the president on border security” and Donnelly touted his support for Trump’s border wall in an ad to voters, but the effort to tack to the right on the issue failed to protect them.
Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, Tester’s opponent, warned of Mexican meth coming across the border and having a devastating impact on local communities.
But now that McCaskill and Donnelly have lost — Tester managed to squeak by to a victory — the issue is less of a vulnerability for Senate Democrats.
The electoral map is much more favorable for Democrats in 2020. Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) and Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersFreedomWorks misfires on postal reform Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage Lawmakers raise concerns over federal division of cybersecurity responsibilities MORE (Mich.) are the only Democrats running for reelection in the next cycle in states that Trump carried in 2016, and Michigan is still seen as Democratic territory after Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSanders says spending plan should be .5T 'at the very least' Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage Photos of the Week: Infrastructure vote, India floods and a bear MORE (D-Mich.) won an easy reelection on Tuesday.
Instead, Schumer will feel more pressure from prominent liberals in his caucus such as Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate Florida woman faces five years in prison for threatening to kill Harris MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFederal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Mass.), who are angling for presidential runs and are in no mood to give Trump a big win ahead of 2020.
"Mr. President, we’re never, ever going to build your stupid wall," Warren declared at the Netroots National Annual Conference last year.