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Trump Signals Defeat on Wall Demand as Christmas Crisis Deadline Nears

Democrats ‘fight to the death’ to block barrier project, president gripes

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued Tuesday with President Donald Trump over his proposed southern border wall. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued Tuesday with President Donald Trump over his proposed southern border wall. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump signaled defeat Wednesday on his threat to shut down nearly half the federal government over his border wall funding demand, possibly pulling the country back from the brink of a Christmas crisis.

His morning tweet and spokeswoman’s comments Tuesday marked another abrupt reversal for the 45th president, who last week roared at the top two congressional Democrats that he would “take the mantle” and shut down parts of the government unless they gave him $5 billion for his border barrier.

The GOP president was mum about lawmakers’ efforts Tuesday to find a way to keep several unfunded departments open beyond Friday night, telling reporters “it’s too early to say” what he might sign. But Republican and Democratic Senate leaders rejected each other’s proposals for anything more than a short stopgap measure, and that’s exactly what Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby announced Tuesday evening he would prepare for a floor vote to keep the agencies open until early February.

That would mean lawmakers could leave before Friday, with Trump following them out of town that morning for a planned 16-day vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida.

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Trump signaled he has little choice but to bow to reality and drop his $5 billion border barrier funding demand, tweeting that Democrats “fight to the death” on that and other issues. But he vowed “one way or the other” he would eventually build the southern border wall.

“In our Country, so much money has been poured down the drain, for so many years, but when it comes to Border Security and the Military, the Democrats fight to the deat,” he wrote.

“We won on the Military, which is being completely rebuilt. One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!” the president added ahead of the Friday night deadline to keep the Interior, Agriculture, State, Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments and a list of smaller agencies open for business.

Around the time of Trump’s Wednesday morning tweet, White House officials declined to state definitively that he would sign Shelby’s early February stopgap. But one official gave no indication the president would veto the measure or call Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and demand the Kentucky Republican squash it.

White House aides had referred questions about a short funding bill to comments Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made Tuesday during a rare press briefing. She said White House officials want to see what Congress can pass before stating whether the president would sign it.

As Wednesday dawned, however, Shelby’s stopgap was the only game in town. A White House official could not point to any other proposal Trump might be more inclined to support.

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On Tuesday, Sanders told Fox News the White House has determined it has “other ways to get to that $5 billion.” Later, she said Trump has asked all federal agencies to identify funds that could be redirected to his border barrier project.

But that has a big catch: the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to determine how taxpayer funds are spent, meaning lawmakers — including a Democratic-controlled House Appropriations Committee come January — would have to approve what’s called a “reprogramming” request to repurpose funds allocated for other things.

Schumer on Tuesday dismissed the White House’s reprogramming idea, saying: “They need congressional approval and they’re not getting it for the wall.”

That means Shelby’s plan would delay a fight over the wall to February, essentially creating a Christmas cease-fire over the president’s hardline immigration policies.

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