WASHINGTON — Will the president sacrifice the start of a golfing vacation at his Florida resort to demand money for his border wall? Or will he find some way to claim he has “won” on the issue and fly south on schedule?
Or will he truly defy expectations by rejecting a temporary spending bill and going to Palm Beach anyway amid a partial government shutdown?
Americans will find out, one way or another, in this season’s finale of the Donald Trump presidency Friday.
On Thursday, Trump brought shutdown fever to a boil with a tweet threatening a veto of a two-month spending package — before appearing to talk himself down at a bill signing, where he said he wanted money for “border security” and a physical barrier but not making specific demands about either.
“I’ve made my position very clear. Any measure that funds the government must include border security. Has to,” Trump said in prepared remarks he delivered just before he signed this year’s farm bill into law. He added that money must also be there for some type of barrier. “We’ll see what we can do. Hopefully, that will all come together.”
Notably, though, Trump did not name a dollar figure for what he would need to sign the bill. Nor did he state what project or projects would have to be funded.
The spending bill extension passed by the Senate late Wednesday continues funding at a $1.6 billion annual rate for refurbishing and upgrading the existing fence on about one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border — thus meeting both of Trump’s stated requirements.
Whether that’s enough for Trump’s hard-core base is unclear.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, a close Trump ally, said the word from residents in his district was “get it done” and that “we build it.”
“What I heard very loudly and very clearly from my constituents is they don’t want us to just give up on this particular issue, and so it’s important that we fight on their behalf,” he said.
Trump earlier in the day wrote on Twitter that the Senate-passed bill was not good enough. “When I begrudgingly signed the Omnibus Bill, I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership. Would be done by end of year (NOW),” Trump wrote. “It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries - but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!”
Hours later, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Meadows and fellow Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) met with Trump at the White House, after which Ryan said Trump made it clear he would not sign what the Senate passed.
“The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came up from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security,” Ryan said afterward.
That, though, was not long before Trump seemed to soften his demands at the farm bill signing.
If Thursday’s spending bill crisis seemed familiar, that’s because it was a repeat of an episode from earlier in the year, when Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill to keep the entire government funded through the end of the budget year in September.
Trump’s budget director held a press briefing the day before the scheduled signing and assured reporters that Trump would sign the measure, even though it had no money for the border wall.
But that night and the following morning, Trump’s readiness to approve a spending package that was that big but did not include even a single dollar to build the wall that he had promised was hammered on by Fox News hosts. Trump responded with a tweet suggesting he would veto the package. Congressional Republicans scrambled to talk Trump out of that threat.
Trump wound up signing the bill, claiming he was doing so because of all the money it contained for the military, and vowed not to sign another one if it did not include wall money.
But he has since approved two more funding bills for the Department of Homeland Security that did not contain money for the border wall. The first was in September, at the urging of congressional Republicans who warned that a shutdown so close to the November midterms would hurt them. The second was two weeks ago, because of the death and subsequent state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.
And Thursday’s heightened, then lowered shutdown tensions follow a week of such oscillations. Last week Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) and the likely next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), that he would be “proud” to shoulder the responsibility for a partial shutdown.
Since then, though, the White House sent signals that Trump was seeking to avoid a shutdown. First, it said that a compromise number between the $1.6 billion that Democrats support and the $5 billion that Trump wants would be acceptable. And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump would be able to find money for his wall from other sources.
Critical coverage on Fox and by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh in the past two days appeared to have yet again pushed Trump toward favoring a veto. Limbaugh on Thursday told his listeners that Trump had, during the program, assured him that he would veto a bill that did not pay for his wall.
Trump promised many hundreds of times during his campaign that American taxpayers would not have to pay anything for his 30-foot-tall, concrete “great wall” because he would force Mexico to pay for it. But nearly two years into his presidency, Trump has yet to publicly broach the subject even a single time with that country’s leaders.
The make-Mexico-pay part was quietly dropped almost immediately upon taking office. In a phone call with Mexico’s president at the time, according to leaked transcripts published by the Washington Post, Trump told Enrique Peña Nieto that he understood that Mexico would not pay for the wall but asked him not to say that publicly so Trump would not lose standing among his base.
About three-quarters of the federal workforce would be unaffected by a partial shutdown, as their agencies were funded through September 2019 in earlier spending bills. A partial shutdown that would start at midnight Friday would affect the departments of Homeland Security, State, the Treasury and the Interior. Many of the affected employees would be deemed essential and be forced to work anyway. None would be paid during the shutdown and would have to get by on savings or short-term loans.