Border melee ups ante on shutdown

By Alexander Bolton

The Hill

Nov 27, 2018

Clashes between migrants and law enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana have created a new challenge for lawmakers hoping to placate President Trump’s demands for a border wall and prevent a government shutdown.

Before border authorities turned to tear gas on Sunday to turn away migrants rushing the border, many lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill thought Trump would likely sign funding legislation to prevent a shutdown, even if it represented a watered-down border security package.

The ugliness on Sunday, Republicans say, is only likely to convince Trump to dig his heels in harder on more funding for the wall.

In a tweet on Monday, the president threatened to “close the Border permanently if need be” and demanded that lawmakers “fund the wall!”

Later, he defended the use of tear gas at the border and said members of the migrant caravan would not be allowed to enter the United States.

“They had to use [tear gas] because they were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas,” Trump said. “And here’s the bottom line: nobody’s coming into our country unless they come in legally.”

Parts of the government will shut down on Dec. 8 if the president does not sign a new funding bill into law.

Fresh off their retaking of the House majority, Democrats feel they have the leverage to block Trump’s demands.

They are skeptical about any deal that would fund the border wall in exchange for helping immigrants who lost protections when Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year.

Senate Republican leaders say the clashes at the border have underscored the importance of Trump’s demands for a wall or “wall system.”

“What it points to is the importance of having a wall system, whether that’s entirely a physical wall or a technological wall. That border security is an increasingly important issue,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the incoming Senate Republican whip.

GOP leaders warn, however, that it will be difficult to secure the full $5 billion that Trump wants for the wall, which is less than the $25 billion originally estimated for the project. House legislation meets the $5 billion figure, but a Senate bill would provide $1.6 billion in funding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) tried to steer Trump away from a possible shutdown during a White House meeting shortly before Thanksgiving.

Senate Republicans see a shutdown over a border wall as a political liability in the next election cycle, when the Senate map will be more favorable for Democrats.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who faces a potentially tough reelection in 2020, told CNN on Sunday that “I hope we can avoid shutting down the government.”

Ernst is the newest member of the Senate GOP elected leadership for the next Congress.

Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), another vulnerable GOP incumbent and the outgoing chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Monday: “I’m confident that we’ll put together a package that can receive bipartisan support.”

“There’s no reason a shutdown needs to occur,” he added.

At the same time, Republicans acknowledge a final deal will require buy-in from Trump.

Asked Monday if Senate leaders could accept a border security funding number below the $5 billion level set by the House, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said, “at this point it’s really kind of up to what the president would find acceptable.”

“Ultimately, he’s going to have to sign it and we’re not going to have a veto-proof majority,” he said. “So I think we’re better off trying to negotiate that with the president, and I think there’s some potential there.”

One proposal being floated is to attach to the year-end spending bill a version of the bipartisan House legislation sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) that would protect DACA recipients from deportation in exchange for what they call “commonsense border security measures” such as enhanced technology, manpower and physical barriers where necessary at the border.

Cornyn on Monday said the idea is under discussion but has yet to be approved by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“Congressman Hurd, who I was visiting with, said they were going to see if there was something that could be done using Hurd-Aguilar, but that was over in the House and that was just between him and me and it didn’t involve House leadership,” he said.

Senate Democrats are pressing for other concessions in the year-end spending deal, which would include seven appropriations bills to fund about 25 percent of the government.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Monday said Democrats will push to add language to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without just cause to the must-pass spending bill if GOP leaders refused to schedule the protection bill for a stand-alone floor vote.

Former House Republican Whip Tom DeLay (Texas) warned that the lame-duck session is the president’s best chance to get full funding for the wall, before Democrats take over control of the House in January.

“If the president wants the wall, he’s got to win this fight in the next few weeks because he’s not going to get any money for the wall for the next two years with the Democrats in control of the House,” he said in a CNN interview. “He’s got to lay down a marker, which he has done. If he has to shut down the government — only 25 percent of the government, by the way — then he’s got to make sure the Democrats understand that’s going to happen.”

Trump’s response to Sunday’s border clash has prompted outrage among Latino leaders.

“He’s using these refugees as a political piñata to get money for a wall he promised Mexico would pay for,” said Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “We’re sending a message to the world when you see women and children being teargassed and hit with rubber bullets only because they’re seeking asylum in the United States. It’s a sad, tragic situation we’re seeing.”

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