Officials uncertain whether president would sign bill without money for wall, with congressional deal to fund government expiring at midnight on Friday
Looming above Washington as Congress and the White House attempt to avert a funding shutdown in only five days time, Donald Trumps central campaign promise to build a wall on the Mexican border threatens to bring the US government to a halt this week in a national display of dysfunction.
On Sunday, even White House officials expressed uncertainty about whether the president would sign a funding bill that did not include money for a wall, which Trump has promised since the first day of his presidential campaign.
We dont know yet, said the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on Fox News Sunday. We are asking for our priorities.
The president himself waded into the negotiations on Sunday, holding out two sticks and no carrot. ObamaCare is in serious trouble, he tweeted. The Dems need big money to keep it going otherwise it dies far sooner than anyone would have thought.
The Democrats dont want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members, he continued, suggesting he would accuse Democrats of being soft on international crime.
But Trump also retreated from a related pledge to the American people: that he would make Mexico pay for the wall, which is estimated to cost billions.
Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall, the president tweeted, without offering a plan or timeline.
Without a deal, funding for the government will run out at midnight on 28 April, Trumps 100th day in office. The secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, told CNNs State of the Union on Sunday he suspected the president would push for the wall.
Hell do the right thing, for sure, but I suspect hell be insistent about the funding, Kelly said.
The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, one of the most aggressive anti-immigrant voices in Trumps administration, also declined to describe the presidents priorities.
Hell make those decisions, Sessions told ABCs This Week. Im not engaged in the budget negotiations. The attorney general admitted that Mexico would probably not cooperate with the demand to pay, and suggested that trade measures against Mexico could create the revenue.
Although the GOP controls Congress and the White House, Republicans from border states and districts have resisted the wall as an expensive measure with limited benefits. Democrats have vociferously opposed it, calling it foolhardy and ineffective. Kelly has said a physical wall alone will not do the job. According to an internal department report acquired by Reuters, the wall will cost about $21bn.
The White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, suggested Republicans might be able to obtain some of that money under the cover of general funds for border security.
Itll be enough for us to move forward through the end of September for us to get going on the wall, he told NBCs Meet the Press.
All three administration officials said they hoped the government would not grind to a halt, potentially costing the US billions and stopping health, safety and veterans benefits. Sessions said he cant imagine Democrats would refuse funding over what he called a down payment on a wall that can end the lawlessness.
Mulvaney meanwhile attempted to broker some peace, saying Republicans would be willing to continue healthcare payments into the Affordable Care Act, should the Democrats grant more border funding.
I dont think anybodys trying to get to a shutdown, he said. A shutdown is not a desired end, its not a tool, its not something we want to have.
Trumps threats did not appear to faze Democratic leaders, who watched last month as Republicans failed to make a deal within their own party on repealing and replacing Barack Obamas healthcare reform.