After issuing an ultimatum to Democratic leaders last week, President Trump is backing down on his threat to shut down the government if Congress does not approve funding for his border wall project. Yesterday the White House suggested that the president was willing to reverse his position that any funding measure must include $5 billion for the border wall and today Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears ready to move forward on a measure that would fund the government through February 8. Without a deal, nonessential government operations would shut down on December 21.
On Tuesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News, “We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion” and would “work with Congress” to that end. Sanders said that the Trump Administration could support the $1.6 billion on border security funding proposed by Democrats and that the president would seek to “couple that with other funding resources” to reach the $5 billion target.
“At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government,” Sanders said. “We want to shut down the border.”
This marks a reversal from last week when President Trump boasted to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), “I am proud to shut down the government for border security because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”
The White House retreat comes amid a turbulent week for the Trump Administration. The Dow fell more than 500 points on Monday and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan warned that investors should prepare for the worst. At the same time, Trump called his former attorney Michael Cohen “a rat” on Twitter and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn continues to cooperate with federal investigators. Mr. Trump’s charity, The Trump Foundation, is also being shut down amid allegations of corruption by the New York Attorney General.
The wall was a core promise of President Trump’s campaign but funding for the project has so far proved elusive. Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress, Democrats have enough seats to filibuster bills that fund the wall. The problem will become even worse for the president next year when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. Given Democrats’ strong opposition to the wall, it seems unlikely that the president’s promise will ever be fulfilled.
The good news is that Democrats have indicated that they don’t oppose border security in principle, they just oppose the wall. By holding them to this position, the Trump Administration might be able to negotiate funds to secure the border by other methods that would be even more effective and less expensive than a wall. These methods would include virtual walls of sensors, more Border Patrol officers, and fencing in certain areas.