House funds border wall, but U.S. government shutdown still looms
Funding for law enforcement, airport security screening, other agencies expires at midnight Friday
The Republican-led House of Representatives has approved funding for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall in legislation that pushes the government closer to a partial government shutdown because it has almost no chance of passing the Senate.
The House voted 217-185, largely along party lines.
The Senate late on Wednesday passed a different version of the bill that did not include funding for the wall, and it was unclear whether it would consider the House-passed measure.
Without resolution, government funding for various departments expires at midnight Friday.
Following the House vote Thursday night, Trump tweeted that enthusiasm for border security and the wall is greater than ever.
Thank you to our GREAT Republican Members of Congress for your VOTE to fund Border Security and the Wall. The final numbers were 217-185 and many have said that the enthusiasm was greater than they have ever seen before. So proud of you all. Now on to the Senate!—@realDonaldTrump
Trump has demanded $5 billion to put toward building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico that he argues is needed to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs. Lashed by rare criticism from conservatives, he dug in Thursday, saying he wouldn't sign any bill that didn't have the money.
"I've made my position very clear," he said at a White House event. "Any measure that funds the government must include border security."
He said a "powerful physical barrier" is "essential to border security" and that "every nation has not only the right, but the absolute duty to protect its borders."
"Walls work," he added. "Whether we like it or not."
Trump's sudden rejection of the legislation, after days of mixed messages, sent Republican leaders scrambling for options back on Capitol Hill.
Conservatives want to keep fighting for the money to pay for the wall as a last act of the Republican-led Congress before Democrats take House control in January. They warn that "caving" on Trump's repeated wall promises could hurt his 2020 re-election chances, and other Republicans' as well.
The partial shutdown would affect agencies including those responsible for federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration and farm programs.
The Senate bill approved on Wednesday had provided a seven-week extension to fund the government to Feb. 8, punting the funding issue into the next Congress. It would keep funding at current levels, $1.3 billion, for border security and fencing but not for the wall..
The House had been set to vote Thursday, before a midnight Friday deadline to avert the shutdown.
One last-ditch Republican idea was to add Trump's $5 billion demand to the bill, along with a disaster aid package that many lawmakers support for coastal hurricanes and California wildfires. The plan would be to send the new package to the Senate. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana said his fellow Republicans would vote late Thursday.
But such a package would not be likely to pass the Senate because Democrats have already resisted Trump's $5 billion as "ineffective, unnecessary and exorbitantly expensive," and many senators have already left for the holidays.
The Democrats, who know Steel Slats (Wall) are necessary for Border Security, are putting politics over Country. What they are just beginning to realize is that I will not sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure, unless it has perfect Border Security. U.S.A. WINS!—@realDonaldTrump
If it fails, the House may end up voting on the original bill passed by the Senate but panned by Trump. In that scenario, it is unclear how Trump would respond, House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said. "We're all putting that in the calculator," he said.
'Proud to shut down'
In a late-night session on Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to provide money to keep a series of programs operating through Feb. 8. But it defied the president by refusing to give him any of the $5 billion he demanded to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of his key campaign promises.
Last week, in a meeting with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Trump had said he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security."
Instead of resolving the budget impasse with a funding bill to keep several federal agencies operating through next September, the end of this fiscal year, the Senate on Wednesday approved only a seven-week extension of existing funds.
Democrats and several of Trump's own Republicans have balked at money for a wall that the president argues would stop the illegal flow of immigrants and drugs into the United States.
Democrats will soon control House
On Jan. 3, Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives from Republicans, making it even less likely that Trump will win money for a border wall.
"When House Democrats assume control in two weeks, my primary focus will be to pass reasonable spending legislation that does not fund President Trump's wasteful wall," said Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York who in 2019 will chair the House appropriations committee, which writes government funding legislation.
Meanwhile, Trump administration officials were looking for ways to build the wall, which the president initially had pledged Mexico would pay for, by reassigning money already doled out to U.S. agencies for other projects.
The White House has not provided details of that effort but leading Democrats have warned that shifting funds around in such a way would have to be approved by Congress.
Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina and the leader of a group of hard-right conservatives, told reporters that if this temporary spending bill is enacted, Republican candidates in 2020 will suffer.
"He [Trump] campaigned on the wall" in 2016, Meadows said. "It was the centre of his campaign... the American people's patience is running out," he said.
With files from Reuters