WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump conceded on Friday there was a good chance the Senate would not approve his demand for $5 billion toward funding his border wall project and that there probably would be a government shutdown beginning at midnight.
Before meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House, Trump had written on Twitter that “Democrats now own the shutdown,” despite having said last week that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue of border security and “I’ll be the one to shut it down.”
“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he said in a tweet.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer refused to take the blame.
“President Trump, you own the shutdown,” he said on the Senate floor. “You said so in your own words.”
Republican Senators Bob Corker and Richard Shelby said negotiations were under way to see if a compromise funding bill could be shaped. Vice President Mike Pence and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner were seen in Schumer’s office.
A senior Senate Republican aide said there was hope that Democrats and Republicans could find a “sweet spot” in a temporary spending bill that would provide more money for border security than was in the bill the Senate passed earlier this week – but not the $5 billion for a wall that the House of Representatives approved.
Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio expressed frustration with what they said was a shifting position by the White House. Rubio said that earlier in the week the Republicans went with their funding bill, which included $1.6 billion for general border security but nothing specifically for a wall, because Pence had told them the White House was open to such a proposal.
“We had a reasonable path and there was every indication from the president that he would sign it,” Alexander said.
WHITE HOUSE MEETING
Trump had summoned Senate Republicans to the White House on Friday morning to push for his wall funding before they took up procedural votes on whether to consider a bill passed by the House granting $5 billion for the wall. But afterward he said there was a good chance the bill would not clear the Senate and that a shutdown was likely.
The procedural vote stretched over several hours because many senators left Washington to start their Christmas break, thinking the temporary funding issue was settled on Wednesday, and had to return to the Capitol.
Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, chastised Trump and told him to abandon his shutdown strategy.
“You’re not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd when Democrats take control of the House,” he said.
Earlier in the week the Senate, where Republicans have a 51-49 majority, passed a short-term government funding bill that included no money for the wall. On Friday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his members to vote for a bill that was approved by the House on Thursday to give Trump $5 billion toward building the wall on the Mexican border – one of the major themes of his presidency.
In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump called on McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with a simple majority, rather than the standard “supermajority” of 60 votes. But there was not enough support among Republican senators to do so.
The possibility of a government shutdown fed investor anxieties that contributed to another down day on Friday for U.S. stocks, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.7 percent in late trading.
The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won.
Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through the end of the federal fiscal year next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services.
But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Agriculture Department, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.
A partial government shutdown could begin with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety. Such critical workers, including U.S. border agents, and nonessential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.
More than half of the 1,700 people who work for the executive office of the president also would be furloughed.
Trump had planned to leave Washington on Friday for a holiday stay at his Florida resort but the standoff made his plans uncertain.
The border wall was a key Trump campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and he sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.
Reporting by Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman