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Trump has yet to make final decision on border bill as shutdown looms

Conservatives blast legislation on Fox morning show as White House staff evaluates it

Fox News Channel and radio talk show host Sean Hannity interviews President Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Las Vegas in September 2018. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images file photo)
Fox News Channel and radio talk show host Sean Hannity interviews President Donald Trump before a campaign rally in Las Vegas in September 2018. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump has not yet made a final decision about signing a massive spending measure needed to avert another government shutdown that includes far less for his southern border than he demanded, a White House official said.

“POTUS has not made a final decision. We are still reviewing the bill,” said the White House official, who has knowledge of the president’s decision-making.

A second White House official told Roll Call earlier this week that staff would huddle with Trump only after the legislative text of a compromise border security spending measure had been released. That did not happen until late Wednesday night.

Trump on Wednesday noticeably did nothing to signal he might reject or veto the spending bill even though it includes over $3 billion less for his proposed U.S.-Mexico barrier than he has demanded for months, which includes full-year spending measures for the Department of Homeland Security and six other federal agencies.

In fact, he appeared to be inching toward supporting a compromise border security spending measure, saying another government shutdown would be “terrible.”

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“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” he said in the Oval Office alongside his Colombian counterpart. And his top aides did little all week to signal his opposition — but then, they didn’t in December when he bowed to conservatives’ pressure and forced a shutdown because the right felt a Senate-passed bill’s inclusion of only $1.6 billion in wall funding was too little.

To that end, all indications are that the Fox News Channel’s morning show, “Fox & Friends,” got to Trump before his staff had fully evaluated the bill. On Wednesday, Trump said he was concerned Democrats had slipped “land mines” — meaning so-called “poison pill” policy riders — into the legislative text that would cause him to reject it.

The Fox morning show, which Trump often live tweets, aired several segments Thursday with conservative figures pointing to what they call poison pills.

Michelle Malkin, a conservative syndicated columnist, said she already had found language she contends would give border-area mayors “veto power” over whether the border barrier — or fence, as the legislation calls it — could be built in their cities.

She also panned the bill for failing to overhaul the country’s asylum laws and failing to adequately fund an increase in immigration judges to process additional cases — something Trump has repeatedly called for.

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach appeared on the program to warn that Democrats have likely loaded the bill with things to which Trump will object.

“I can name at least three poison pills that would justify vetoing the bill,” Kobach said. “And we know the Democrats have been interested in inserting these pills, and you can do it with just a couple of words.”

“If it says ‘no more than’ or ‘only $1.375 [billion],’ that would take away the president’s authority that exists … to spend Defense Department money and other money on building the fence,” Kobach said. “Normally, there’s 72 hours for every member of Congress to read the bill. They waived that so everybody’s going to be scrambling looking for a couple of words here and there. It’s the epitome of bad lawmaking.”

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House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, said Wednesday that Democratic leaders had decided to waive that rule because the impending partial government shutdown amounts to an emergency.

Meantime, Fox’s correspondents spent time noting the bill would fund fencing but does not call the structure a wall. One reporter pointed out it would buck Trump’s wishes by funding a 1.9 percent pay hike for federal workers, which would amount to a win for Democrats.

Trump would only get $1.375 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, well shy of the $5.7 billion he wanted. And there are several restrictions on where Customs and Border Protection can build within the Rio Grande Valley, in deference to historical sites and local communities.

But Trump would get flexibility to “reprogram” Homeland Security funding in the bill, or move money from other accounts. And he’s said he’ll be ready to use various other legal authorities if necessary to pull money from other agencies, including the Pentagon. On another key demand of Trump’s, appropriators would provide far less detention bed space than the president wanted for undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border or committing criminal or civil offenses within the U.S.

The president’s public schedule, released late Wednesday evening by the White House press office, includes no opportunities for him to make public remarks about the legislative text and his staff’s review — or his decision. That also means that, unless he calls for the day’s press pool, reporters will not have a chance to ask him about the bill before the Senate first and then the House votes on it.

But, as always, he could announce his decision in a tweet. Or, if he is getting cold feet, it’s possible a senior GOP lawmaker dispatched to the White House to reassure the president might make the announcement outside the West Wing — that’s what then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan did in December after he failed to convince Trump to sign a Senate-crafted compromise.

A quarter of the federal government shut down for the longest period in American history, 35 days, not long after Ryan broke the news.

Kellie Mejdrich and Paul Krawzak contributed to this report.Sanders: ‘At the end of the day the president is going to build the wall’

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