July 29, 2018
WASHINGTON—President Trump renewed a threat to shut down the government unless Congress provides money for a wall at the southern border and enacts new curbs on immigration, reviving a battle he said last month should wait until Republicans gained more solid majorities after the November elections.
Trump Again Threatens to Shut Down Government
“I would be willing to ’shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!”
The threat adds a new headache for congressional Republican leaders two months before government funding expires on Sept. 30. It also stands as a rebuff to Republicans who have privately pleaded with the president to avoid triggering a shutdown before the mid-term elections. Republican leaders fear their party would be blamed for shutting down the government, costing them votes during a year in which the party risks losing control of the House and is defending a narrow majority of 51 out of 100 seats in the Senate.
“I don’t think it will be helpful” for the GOP in the November elections, said Sen. Ron Johnson (R. Wis), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee on CBS’s Face the Nation. “So let’s try to avoid it.”
“I don’t think we’re going to shut down the government,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R., Ohio), who chairs the House Republicans’ campaign arm, said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. "We’re going to get better policies on immigration. We need border security.”
A White House official expressed surprise at the president’s shutdown threat. The timing would be damaging, this person said, coming shortly before midterm elections in which Republicans are vying to retain control of the House. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) have been working to pass spending bills for months in a concerted effort to avoid a government shutdown just weeks before the midterm election.
“I was very surprised when I saw it,” the White House official said of the president’s tweet.
By contrast, were the Democrats to take the position that they wouldn’t vote for a spending bill unless funding for the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency were eliminated, Republicans would be well positioned to blame them for a shutdown, the official said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) tweeted Sunday, “President Shutdown is at it again - how many times will he threaten to shut down the government—putting Virginia’s and our nation’s economy at risk, as well as the livelihoods of thousands of federal workers—before he realizes this is not a game?”
Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House official, said in an interview Sunday that Mr. Trump’s tweet, underscoring his focus on immigration, will strike a chord with the die-hard voters whom Republicans need to retain control of Congress.
“The midterms are going to come down to turnout,” Mr. Surabian said. “It’s going to be which base is more energized to turn out and vote. And there’s not an issue that touches the president’s base more strongly than immigration. Talking about immigration will help motivate Republicans to turn out in November.”
House Republican leaders in June attempted to pass legislation that would meet all of the requirements Mr. Trump laid out on Sunday, but their efforts collapsed after the president declined to throw his full weight behind the bill.The measure, a compromise between hardline and moderate Republicans, would have provided an additional $23.4 billion for border security, including a wall, and ended a visa-lottery program, as well as establishing a system of merit-based immigration. It also would have allowed families stopped at the border to be detained together, letting the Trump administration pursue an immigration crackdown that has been hamstrung by court decisions.
A separate bill devised by House conservatives was also defeated last month. In both cases, House Republicans needed a majority from within their own ranks because Democrats universally opposed the House immigration measures, viewing both as too harsh. In June, Mr. Trump had said Republicans should “stop wasting their time” on immigration until after the party elected more Republicans in November because Democrats are “just playing games.” He said “we can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!” Congress already provided a $1.6 billion down payment toward border security, including a wall, through a spending bill that became law earlier this year.
The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a Homeland Security spending bill for fiscal year 2019 that would direct $5 billion for physical barriers and technology at the wall, which Democrats oppose. The Senate’s homeland security spending bill, by contrast, includes only $1.6 billion for the wall, which is what the Trump administration initially requested. Spending bills need 60 votes to clear the Senate, where Republicans hold 51 seats.
Mr. Trump indicated on Twitter earlier this month that he preferred the House’s $5 billion sum, praising Rep. Kevin Yoder (R., Kansas), whose appropriations subcommittee wrote that spending bill.
The threat on Sunday wasn’t the first time that the president has warned he might spark a government shutdown in a bid to force through his immigration agenda. Last August at a rally in Phoenix, he threatened to shut down the government over border-wall funding. He issued the same ultimatum in April, warning that he would have no choice but to “close down the country” unless Congress gave him more money for the border wall.
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