Trump Threatens to Veto Omnibus Over DACA and Border Wall

Much of Congress departed D.C. after votes, assuming Trump would sign bill as another shutdown looms at midnight

President Donald Trump surprised Washington by threatening to veto the omnibus spending bill passed by the Senate a few hours earlier. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump surprised Washington by threatening to veto the omnibus spending bill passed by the Senate a few hours earlier. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 23, 2018 at 9:08am

President Donald Trump said Friday he is considering vetoing the omnibus spending bill passed overnight because it does not solve the DACA issue or fully fund his southern border wall.

Government funding expires at midnight.

The president tweeted that Democrats have “totally abandoned” those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, which Trump decided in September to end, provides work permits to young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as children. The program currently shelters about 700,000 Dreamers from deportation. 

White House aides were clearly caught off guard by the president’s tweet. A group was huddled in Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office around 9:45 a.m., and other aides sharply told a reporter they had no information about what might happen Friday.

Congress could override a Trump veto, but that would take a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber. The House vote to pass the omnibus Thursday was 256-167, short of the two-thirds threshold. The Senate vote of 65-32 was just barely two-thirds of those present and voting.

The urgency to override a veto on a measure to keep the government open could cause some members to switch their votes — but such a reversal is a tough ask.

Members of both chambers have departed Washington, thinking they did their job, so an effort to reconvene in the event of a veto would take time, ensuring a shutdown at midnight.

One senior Republican took to Twitter to talk Trump off the ledge. 

“While [Democrats] obstructed normal appropriations process, forcing an Omnibus, the benefits of Omnibus to national security, border security, opioid crisis, infrastructure, school safety and fixing gun background check system are important and will save lives,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn tweeted, tagging the president’s Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump.

Other options

In the event of a veto and lack of interest in trying to override it, Congress could also return to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep government funding flowing. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows made that suggestion in a tweet backing Trump’s veto threat. 

“The Freedom Caucus would fully support you in this move, Mr. President,” Meadows said. “Let’s pass a short term CR while you negotiate a better deal for the forgotten men and women of America.”

Meadows, who is in frequent contact with the president, had discussed conservatives’ concerns about the omnibus with Trump. It’s unclear, though, if he had previously advised Trump to issue a veto threat.

Rep. Ted Budd, a Freedom Caucus member, echoed Meadows’ sentiments. 

“We stand with you, Mr. President,” the North Carolina freshman said. “Veto this #omnibus and let’s fund the wall and get a better deal for the American people.”

Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita, another Republican who voted against the omnibus but is not in the Freedom Caucus, backed the president’s claims about the bill but stopped short of encouraging a veto. 

“Trump is right!” he tweeted. “The swamp filled $1.3 trillion Omnibus does NOT fund the border wall.”

Should Trump follow through on his threat, it is unlikely that the legislation lawmakers spent weeks negotiating will move any closer to the package Trump wants.

Democrats, who have stood firm in their position on many of the more controversial provisions sought by the White House, are unlikely to change their calculus in a situation where they can put the sole blame for a shutdown on Trump.

Reopening the package could also anger some Republicans, who believe they achieved a number of conservative wins in the legislation and fear that by renegotiating the more contentious issues left out of the omnibus — like the DACA program — they would be forced to succumb to more Democratic demands.

A senior Democratic aide indicated there was no “Plan B” should Trump choose to veto the package.

A second senior Democratic aide said Trump is just trying to get a reaction from Democrats over something that’s demonstrably false. As for next steps, the aide said to ask Republicans because it’s “their problem.”

Watch: Ryan Defends Lack of Border Wall Funding in Omnibus Spending Plan

Loading the player...

White House reversal

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, guaranteed Thursday that the president would sign the massive spending measure.

“Will the president sign the bill? Yes,” he said at the start of a hastily arranged news conference.

Mulvaney and Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, explained how White House officials never expected to get all their demands since Democratic votes were needed to get the spending bill to Trump’s desk.

But they never said the president understood that.

On Wednesday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan was sent to the White House to talk Trump into signing the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped out of a meeting to take a call from Trump about the omnibus.

By Wednesday evening, Trump was tweeting about the things he “got” in the bill.

“Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming.”

“Most importantly, got $700 Billion to rebuild our Military, $716 Billion next year … most ever,” he wrote, taking a shot at the opposition party: “Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment.”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump is mischaracterizing the amount of money in the omnibus for his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“There’s some resources for fencing and repairs and the rest there … but some of that money is for technology and other ways to protect our border,” Pelosi said Thursday on the House floor. “If you want to think that you’re getting a wall, you just think it and sign the bill.”

It appears by Friday morning the mercurial president was having second thoughts about doing so.

Democrats aghast

Democrats were quick to point out the hypocrisy of Trump’s claims on DACA.

“Reminder: Trump created DACA chaos. It was his action alone,” Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly tweeted. “Then he abandoned multiple deals. How can anyone negotiate with this very stable genius?”

Several other Democrats made similar statements, including House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday after the House vote on the omnibus, which she opposed, that she was angry the White House was trying to paint the absence of DACA protections in the bill as a lack of interest by Democrats.

“They don’t want to do these protections,” the New Mexico Democrat said of Republicans. “They’re looking for leverage points to give this administration anything they want in homeland security, and primarily that wall. And this bill, and everything else that they’ve done before here, is a very clear indication that that’s the only thing they were after. And the reality: They’re in the majority and they’re in the primary leveraging position, particularly if that’s what they want.”

Democrats never wanted DACA to be tied up with spending, but Republicans refused to call up standalone legislation protecting Dreamers, Lujan Grisham said.

“The preference was never to put it in a bill it doesn’t belong in,” she said. “We want a standalone, very clear, very clean, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ Would we have taken a productive DACA protection reinstating it in the omni? Absolutely. Unless it was tied to a 2,000-mile wall and interior enforcement. Forget it.”

Trump, who was the one who decided to end the DACA program, can fix the problem if he wants to, Lujan Grisham added.

“Do your job, Mr. President,” she said. “You want to protect this population? You have the ultimate power. Let me see you do it.”

Joe Williams contributed to this report.