President Donald Trump said he was not sure when the government would be open but said the government would but vowed not to reopen it until Congress approves funding for a wall along America’s southern border with Mexico. The President made the comments when speaking with reporters on Christmas Day after a video teleconference with members of the U.S. military.
“I can’t tell you when the government is going to reopen. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it. I’ll call it whatever they want. But it’s all the same thing. It’s a barrier from people pouring into our country,” the President said.
The Federal Government has been shut down since Saturday as Congress and the White House failed to come to terms on spending bills that would have kept the government operating. At the heart of the impasse is funding for a wall along the southern border, a promise at the center of President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Congress, specifically Congressional Democrats, approved spending that would keep border security funding at last year’s levels – $1.3 billion. They contend however that those funds are for overall border security and have remained adamant that no additional funding will be provided specifically for the President’s border wall. They have since revised their proposed funding levels to downward to $1.3 billion for next year.
Democratic votes are required for any funding bills to be passed by Congress as Republicans lack the required number of votes, sixty, to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The White House wants at least $5 billion to begin construction on the wall and have requested that amount be included in any new spending bills that pass Congress and arrive at the President’s desk for signature.
On Sunday, the President’s new Chief of Staff, Office of Management and Budget Director and former Congressman Mick Mulvaney, indicated it is very likely the shutdown will extend beyond December 28, and into the new Congress. The Senate is adjourned until Thursday which sets as the end of the week the earliest a compromise can be reached.
But Mulvaney also indicated that the White House has extended a new offer to Congressional Democrats to break the deadlock.
“Yes, I will tell you this, they’re [at] 1.3 [billion dollars]. Yesterday, we are at $5 billion a couple of days ago. And the counteroffer that we give them yesterday was between those two numbers….We moved off of the five and we hope they move up from their 1.3,” Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday.
That offer however, was rejected by Congressional Democrats.
Democratic leadership, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi put out a joint statement yesterday assailing President Trump for not having a clear vision as to how to end the stalemate.
“It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos. The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve – after he just fired the Secretary of Defense,” they wrote.
“Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump Shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts. Meanwhile, different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment. The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it,” they added.
Adding to the confusion is the uncertainty over what is meant by the term “border wall.” The President tweeted out a picture of a steel slated fence with points at the top as an example of the barrier he wants funding for. “A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!” the President’s message read.
Mulvaney also alluded to the steel fence and said Democrats were being disingenuous in asserting that no funds will be directed to a “border wall” when funds have already been offered for the construction of the steel slated fencing.
“It’s important that everyone understands the language that everyone is using. The president tweeted out a picture yesterday…the steel slated fence with a pointed top…that’s what we want to build. And in the Democrats’ mind, that is not a wall,” Mulvaney said.
“So they have offered this $1.3 billion to build the barrier that we want but then they go on TV and say there’s no money for a wall. We’ve already told the Democrats we want to build what the president tweeted out. It doesn’t have to be a 30-foot high concrete,” he added.
The President said during an Oval Office meeting with Schumer and Pelosi two weeks ago that he would take full responsibility for any shut down that occurred over construction of the barrier on the border.
“If we don’t get what we want through you or through military or anyone you want to call, I will shut down the government,” the President told Schumer referring to a wall.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it…I will take the mantle for shutting down. I’m going to shut it down for border security,” he went on to say.
Last week the Senate passed a continuing resolution that would have kept the government funded until February 8, 2019. No additional funding beyond last year’s levels were included in the measure for border security. The President had indicated that he would sign such a “clean” spending bill ahead of Friday’s deadline to keep the government open.
The President however was roundly criticized by conservatives, most notably conservative media, for agreeing to Democratic demands.
“It looks like a lot of people’s worst fears may be realized and that the president is getting ready to cave on getting any money for the wall in the current budget,” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on his show.
Trump will “just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populous for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever,” said conservative commentator and, heretofore vocal Trump supporter, Ann Coulter.
“I must have missed the wall being built. What wall?” said conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham in response to comments the President made about “big sections” of the wall already being built. “That’s not a wall. Stop saying it’s a wall. There’s no wall. If you want a wall, say we don’t have a wall,” Ingraham then said to a guest who was defending the President.
The tough criticism convinced the President to change course.
President Trump informed House Republican leadership last Thursday that he would not be signing the Senate bill as is, if the House were to pass it. So instead, House Republicans took the Senate bill, added $5 billion in border security funds to it, along with about $8 billion in disaster relief funds and passed that bill. The bill then had to go back to the Senate and get passed once more there.
But the requisite sixty votes to break a filibuster were not there, so the government shut down.
The shutdown will affect about 800,000 federal workers with about 380,000 employees expected to face furloughs and more than 420,000 projected to work temporarily without pay. The pay period ending January 11, 2019 will be the first pay period affected by the shutdown, should it last that long. The pay period ending December 28, 2018 will be unaffected.
Because the shutdown is partial, aspects of the Federal Government will continue to function through the shutdown, including the military, the U.S. Postal Service and the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs. Agencies and services that may see disruptions include National Parks, the IRS and environmental and food inspections.
Democrats take control of the House on January 3, 2019 and soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to pass a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government the first day in session. It is unclear whether the Senate will take it up or, should they vote on it and pass it, whether there would be enough votes in Congress to override a presidential veto should President Trump veto that bill.
Photo by The White House