Trump’s last, best chance for wall creates latest shutdown threat

Congress is returning to Washington with a tight deadline to pass seven spending bills and avert a partial government shutdown over President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE’s demand that lawmakers fund his wall on the Mexican border.

The partial shutdown will take place on Dec. 7 if Congress does not pass legislation, creating the last chance for Trump to win wall funding before Democrats take over the House majority in January.

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Trump has threatened to veto a spending bill that does not include funding for the wall. If he follows through, the partial shutdown would hit the Homeland Security, Justice and State departments, among other government entities. 

“This would be a very good time to do a shutdown,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier this month. “I don’t think it’s going to be necessary, because I think the Democrats will come to their senses, and if they don’t come to their senses, we will continue to win elections.”

Many think that Congress will get a bill past the finish line despite Trump’s talk.

The president has threatened to shut down the government over the wall on numerous occasions since taking office, only to acquiesce to Congress and sign funding legislation.

That was the case in September, when Trump signed five bipartisan spending bills into law that covered roughly three-quarters of annual congressional spending. He also signed a stopgap measure extending funding on the remaining seven bills. 

Congressional aides say they expect a similar outcome this time, but warn extenuating circumstances that could change the president’s thinking.

The main inflection point is Democratic control of the House in January. This will cut into Trump’s leverage to win funding for the wall going forward, though he may want to use the issue — and Democratic opposition — ahead of his 2020 reelection bid.

It’s also possible Trump loyalists in the House will want to dig in on the wall in their final weeks in power.

The partial shutdown wouldn’t completely close the government. Even in the departments that would be affected, workers considered “essential” would report through the shutdown.

Still, even a partial shutdown would provide unwelcome headlines for whichever side is blamed by voters for failing to meet the basic function of government.

And it could cost Trump politically. 

A new poll from Morning Consult found that 55 percent of registered voters opposed shutting the government down over funding for the wall, while only 31 percent supported it.

Among Republicans, however, just below half supported a shutdown for the wall, while 34 percent opposed it. 

Respondents also chose funding the wall last on a list of 10 priorities for the next Congress, behind health care, infrastructure, reforming mandatory spending programs and passing immigration reform. 

Lawmakers are working to find a compromise on the Homeland Security funding bill, which would cover the wall.

The House version of the spending bill allocates $5 billion for the wall and was approved without Democratic support. A Senate bill, which has bipartisan support, would provide less — just $1.6 billion. The Senate bill, which is in line with the administration’s original funding request, would build 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Rio Grande Valley. 

Trump has pushed for as much as $25 billion in wall funding, but those close to negotiations believe that the final compromise in Congress will be close to the Senate bill, or marginally higher.

And congressional Democrats say the prospects of a spending deal are good, provided that Trump keeps out of the delicate negotiations.

“We believe that [if] President Trump stays out of the appropriations process, we can have a good bipartisan agreement and the government can move smoothly forward,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMake Trump own the shutdown over his ill-advised border wall More than a tantrum McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the Thanksgiving recess.

Senate appropriators have worked closely together, and Republicans also do not appear to be spoiling for a fight.

“My goal was to avoid a shutdown,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate leaders eye large spending package after White House softens stance on wall The Memo: GOP frets as Trump shutdown looms Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, following a meeting with Trump ahead of Thanksgiving. Trump, he said, also wants to avoid a shutdown, though he wouldn’t commit to it. 

“I would think there’s a good chance we would work this out,” Shelby said.

The wall isn’t the only thing on Congress’s to-do list for the lame-duck session. Lawmakers are also hoping to pass a stalled farm bill and take up an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Proponents for criminal justice reform, including White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos for second straight year Pass the FIRST STEP Act to give second chances at the American Dream No reason to assume American relations with Mexico are rocky MORE, are pressing to get that legislation done before the end of the year, and Senate Republicans also have a slew of nominations to sort through.

Within the spending bills, thorny issues remain beyond the wall. They include whether to increase federal pay and how to address the possible inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. 

Schumer wants to attach a bill protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE to the seven-bill spending package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted MORE (R-Ky.) is opposed to doing so.

But the real wild card is Trump, who has given different signals on how hard he’ll push for wall funding. If the president insists that now is the time to get the wall, he has the potential to trigger a standoff that could lead to a shutdown.