House Republicans are ready to provide a down payment on President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, reigniting a fight that could lead to a government shutdown this fall.
In a nod to Trump’s signature campaign promise, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled a bill to fund homeland security Tuesday that matches the administration’s request for $1.6 billion for the next fiscal year.
But the money may never get out the door. Senate Democrats are sure to object to any government funding bill with money for the wall, and they successfully pressured Republicans to keep out wall money from a funding bill earlier this year. With many Republicans skittish about being blamed for a shutdown, GOP insiders expect a replay.
Still, Trump and his budget chief Mick Mulvaney have said they won’t cave so readily this time — even if it means shutting down the government. And already conservatives in the House are urging the administration to embrace the hardball strategy.
"I am willing to do whatever it takes in the Senate to ensure President Trump’s promise to the American people is kept,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a Freedom Caucus member who’s running for Senate — in part on a platform to build the wall. “I’ll aggressively oppose every single spending bill that doesn’t fund the border wall and expose every Republican establishment Senator who sides with the Democrats against our President.”
The thirst for a showdown to check off a campaign promise will only be even greater if Republicans fail to pass an Obamacare repeal bill. Trump was furious earlier this year when beltway coverage of a spending deal portrayed him as a loser in the wall standoff with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
That’s given Mulvaney, a former Freedom Caucus member who believes shutdowns could be advantageous to the right, a chance to sweep in and whisper in Trump’s ear that a shutdown might help them get what they want.
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Trump tweeted after the spending deal was struck with Democrats in early May.
Mulvaney in a press conference just after that said the president’s tweet meant “that we might need a shutdown at some point to drive home that this place, that Washington, needs to be fixed.”
Trump is “willing to think outside the box and do things differently around here in order to change Washington. And if that comes to a shutdown in September, so be it,” he argued on TV at the time.
Enter the new homeland bill that proposes $1.6 billion for the wall, a fraction of the total cost it would take to construct the border wall, but which matches the administration’s request for fiscal 2018.
Already, the reaction is causing déjà vu, with Democrats panning the idea en mass. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said “there’s no way” wall funding will get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate this fall — just as it didn’t last spring.
Carper said most people who work in the Homeland Security Department would prefer increased funds for other security needs, not to building a new wall: “They’re not telling me they need a wall. They’re telling me they need funding for these other things,” he said.
Even the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has allied himself with Trump on other issues, said he’s “not been supportive of funding for a wall.”
“It’s something I have no interest in. I just think we have so many other pressing problems and I think there’s other ways immigration needs to be treated.”
Hill GOP insiders know these dynamics on the wall haven’t shifted.
GOP leaders will not want to shut the government down, for fear their party will pay a political price.
They may not have much of a choice, however, if Trump uses his veto pen.