It’s only June, but President Trump’s laserlike focus on immigration and desire for a border wall are making GOP lawmakers nervous that lagging talks on a budget deal could further bog down and lead to another government shutdown.
Trump is demanding $5 billion in border wall funding as part of a deal that would put limits on federal spending and raise the debt ceiling.
A senior administration official on Friday said the Senate should put together appropriations bills that fund the president’s border wall request. The GOP Senate could then negotiate with Democrats in the House on compromise versions of the spending bills later this year.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and other Senate Republicans see that as a risky strategy that could lead to another stalemate and potential government shutdown at the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Senate Republicans are eager to avoid the chance of another government shutdown, but Trump is more focused on revving up his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election. He wants to show he’s doing everything to deliver on his top campaign promise: building the wall.
Trump tweeted a quote this past week from GOP pollster John McLaughlin declaring that the president has “delivered on keeping America Stronger & Safer.”
Getting more money from Congress for a border wall would make that argument stronger.
Shelby doesn’t think Democrats will agree to $5 billion for a border wall, even if some Republicans think the allocation can be euphemistically described or “massaged” as funding for “border barriers” or “border infrastructure.”
A meeting Wednesday afternoon between Shelby, McConnell, and several senior GOP appropriators and senior White House officials failed to yield a breakthrough.
“I think the biggest problem is the wall funding,” said a GOP lawmaker familiar with the talks. “They want $5 billion. I don’t think they’re going to get $5 billion for the wall.”
Trump’s demands for the wall funding are being delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the former fiscal hard-liner from the House who has repeatedly rubbed Senate Republicans the wrong way.
A second Republican lawmaker said senators are frustrated with Mulvaney, who has been digging in his heels on the two-year spending deal preferred by McConnell and Shelby.
“Did Mulvaney ever vote for a spending bill in the House? I don’t think so,” the source said.
Shelby and others argue the two-year deal is critical to keeping the U.S. military adequately prepared to face Iran and other international threats.
The wall isn’t the only problem negotiators face.
Mulvaney and Mnuchin are worried about the potential political backlash if Trump signs a deal with Democrats that dramatically increases nondefense spending.