Trump threatens government shutdown over border wall funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arguing heatedly in public with Democratic leaders, President Donald Trump threatened repeatedly on Tuesday to shut down the government if Congress doesn't provide the money he says is needed to build a wall at the Mexican border. He insisted the military can build it if Democrats won't vote for the funding.

Trump's comments came as he opened a contentious meeting with Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, with the government looking at a possible partial shutdown on Dec. 21 when funding for some agencies will expire.

Schumer and Pelosi both said legislation to keep the government open and provide additional border security could pass both houses of Congress, but Trump said major wall funding was necessary.

Schumer said, "You say 'my way or we'll shut down the government.'" Trump responded that border security was necessary and a wall was necessary for border security.

"Yes, if we don't get what we want ... I will shut down the government," he declared.

Constantly interrupting, Trump squabbled with the Democrats over whether wall funding could be approved in the House or Senate without Democratic votes.

"This has spiraled downwards," Pelosi said.

The president asked whether Republicans had won the Senate in the November election.

"When the president brags he has won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble," retorted Schumer with a smile.

In a series of tweets earlier Tuesday, Trump said immigration and border patrol agents and thousands of active-duty service members he sent to the border have done a "FANTASTIC" job. But he said "A Great Wall would be, however, a far easier & less expensive solution."

Trump said he looked forward to meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, but claimed they don't want border security for "strictly political reasons."

"If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!" Trump said.

Schumer and Pelosi said Monday that Republicans have the power to keep the government open since they control Congress and the White House.

"Our country cannot afford a Trump Shutdown," they said in a statement, adding that Trump "knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and Senate and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement."

Republican congressional leaders have repeatedly said it's up to Trump to cut a deal with Democrats, an acknowledgment of their inability to produce spending bills with Republican votes alone.

That gave Democrats some momentum heading into the closed-door talks, which also could veer into bipartisan bills on criminal justice reform and reauthorizing farm programs.

By far, the biggest unresolved issue is the border wall. Trump wants the next funding package to include at least $5 billion for it, an idea Democrats have flatly rejected.

19 PHOTOS
Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
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Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, passes his eight-month-old son Daniel through a hole under the U.S. border wall to his partner, Yesenia Martinez, 24, who had already crossed in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Central American migrants planning to surrender to U.S. border patrol agents climb over the U.S. border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, late Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in the Mexican city of Tijuana after undertaking a grueling, weeks-long journey to the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
In a photo taken from Playas of Tijuana, Mexico, Honduran migrants climb over a section of the U.S. border fence before handing themselves in to border control agents, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A steady trickle of Central American migrants have been finding ways to climb over, tunnel under or slip through the U.S. border wall to plant their feet on U.S. soil and ask for asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrants who jumped the border wall to the U.S. side, help other members of their families to jump the wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the United States, but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, feeds his eight-month-old son Daniel as his partner Yesenia Martinez, 24, crawls through a hole under the U.S. border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, carries her eight-month-old son Daniel as she looks for a place to cross the U.S. border wall to surrender to border patrol and request asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while her partner Joel Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman climbs the U.S. border wall, planning to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and apply for asylum, as she crosses from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Often within minutes, border guards quickly arrive to escort migrants to detention centers and begin "credible fear" interviews. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman holding a baby peers through the U.S. border fence as she tries to reach a point where scores of migrants have been crossing in recent days, now blocked by private security, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Legal groups argue that federal law states that immigrants can apply for asylum no matter how they enter U.S. territory. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrant Leivi Ortega, 22, wearing a rosary, looks at her phone while she, her partner and their young daughter, wait in hopes of finding an opportunity to cross the U.S. border from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. In early December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the San Diego sector experienced a "slight uptick" in families entering the U.S. illegally with the goal of seeking asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, reaches back from the San Diego, California side of the U.S. border wall to get her baby's bottle, after crossing underneath from Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez is among a wave of Central Americans getting past the imposing barrier between Mexico and California and expediting their asylum claims by readily handing themselves over to U.S. agents. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A Honduran migrant helps a young girl cross to the American side of the border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. In November, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending asylum rights for people who try to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico, although a divided U.S. appeals court has refused to immediately allow the Trump administration to enforce the ban. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Salvadoran migrant Cesar Jobet, right, and Daniel Jeremias Cruz hide from U.S. border agents after they dug a hole in the sand under the border wall and crossed over to the U.S. side, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. When the two youths were detected by agents they ran back to the Mexican side. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the U.S. border wall with plans to turn himself over to U.S. border patrol agents in order to apply for asylum, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. In twos or threes, or sometimes by the dozen, migrants arrive at the U.S. border wall and manage to cross over. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a guard on the U.S. side, at left, watches Honduran migrants jump the wall into the United States, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border, two immigrants on U.S. soil try to jump the second wall before border police arrived and arrested them, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen as Honduran migrants who jumped the wall surrender on the U.S. side, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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Pelosi and Schumer have urged Trump to support a bill that includes a half-dozen government funding bills largely agreed upon by lawmakers, along with a separate measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Sept. 30. The homeland bill includes about $1.3 billion for fencing and other security measures at the border.

If Trump rejects that, Democrats will likely urge a continuing resolution that funds all the remaining appropriations bills at current levels through Sept. 30, an aide said. The aide was not authorized to discuss strategy by name and requested anonymity.

Trump said Friday that Congress should provide all the money he wants for the wall and called illegal immigration a "threat to the well-being of every American community." At an appearance in Kansas City, Missouri, Trump accused Democrats of playing a political game and said he ultimately would win.

Pelosi, who is seeking to become House speaker when the new Congress convenes in January, said she and many other Democrats consider the wall "immoral, ineffective and expensive" and noted that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, an idea Mexico has repeatedly rejected.

Schumer said Democrats want to work with Trump to avert a shutdown, but said money for border security should not include the concrete wall Trump has envisioned. Instead, the money should be used for fencing and technology that experts say is appropriate, he said.

"We do not want to let a Trump temper tantrum govern our policies or cause the shutdown of a government, which everyone on both sides of the aisle knows is the wrong idea," Schumer said. If Trump "wants to shut down the government over Christmas over the wall, that's his decision," he said.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the incoming House Homeland Security chairman, said using the military to build the wall "just doesn't make any sense. I can think of a lot more important things we can do with the military then build a fence," he said Tuesday.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Trump is the only obstacle between fully funding the government and a shutdown.

"Time and again, President Trump has used the government of the American people as a bargaining chip for his fabricated solution to his manufactured crisis," Leahy said Monday in a Senate speech.

Trump "wants to score a made-for-reality-TV moment and he doesn't care how many hardworking Americans will suffer for it," Leahy said. "This is not about border security. This is about politics, pure and simple."

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Democrats were the ones playing politics.

If Democrats have a better way to secure the border than Trump's $5 billion plan, "they need to come with an alternative," Scalise said Monday on Fox News Channel. "They can't come and say they want to shut the government down for no reason because they don't want border security. They'll lose that argument with the American people."

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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