Trump demands wall funding as threat of U.S. government shutdown looms

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said border security must be part of legislation to fund the U.S. government, a position that raises the threat of a partial federal shutdown on Saturday.

Republicans in the House of Representatives scrambled to amend a Senate-passed bill to appease Trump after he said he would not sign the legislation, clearing the measure for debate. A subsequent vote was possible later on Thursday but it was unclear whether Republicans would be able to pass what Trump wants.

"I've made my position very clear. Any measure that funds the government must include border security," Trump said at a White House event.

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, a down payment on a massive project which Democrats have rejected as ineffective and wasteful.

The funding impasse, though dramatic and consequential, was dwarfed by another bombshell announcement: the resignation late on Thursday of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

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President Trump visits border wall prototypes amid protests
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President Trump visits border wall prototypes amid protests
US President Donald Trump is shown border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs during a protest while standing in front of the current border fence and near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. The sign on the right reads "Trump, walls can be jumped over". REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People attach a sign reading "Trump, stop the mass deportations" to the current border fence and near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, during a protest in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump's motorcade arrives at the border fence in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "No to the wall" and "Trump, put your wall, but in your territory, not in ours", during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump is shown border wall prototypes with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a sign reading "Trump, put your wall, but in your territory, not in ours", during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump arrives to inspect border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "No to the wall, Trump," and "Trump, we are not enemies of the USA" during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump speaks during an inspection of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican Federal Police officers stand guard the Mexican side of the Mexico-US border in Tijuana, Baja California state, from where prototypes of the border wall, which US President Donald Trump will inspect on the outskirts of San Diego, in the US, are visible on March 13, 2018. Fresh off a cabinet reshuffle, President Donald Trump was headed for Democratic stronghold California on Tuesday to inspect prototypes of the controversial border wall with Mexico that was the centerpiece of his White House campaign. / AFP PHOTO / GUILLERMO ARIAS (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "Trump, we will not pay for the wall" and "Trump, stop the mass deportations" near the border fence between Mexico and the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Journalists gather at a rooftop near the US -Mexico border as President Trump is expected to inspect the border wall prototypes built outskirts San Diego, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on March 13, 2018. Fresh off a cabinet reshuffle, President Donald Trump was headed for Democratic stronghold California on Tuesday to inspect prototypes of the controversial border wall with Mexico that was the centerpiece of his White House campaign. / AFP PHOTO / GUILLERMO ARIAS (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. police officers use a ladder to climb up a truck parked in front of the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, on the U.S. side of the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
An agent faces Mexico while standing by the vehicle of U.S. President Donald Trump at the border near San Diego, California, where Trump reviewed wall prototypes designed to serve as a protective barrier against illegal immigrants, drugs and smuggled weapons, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol Agent sits on horseback near U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade during a tour of U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego, California. U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
TIJUANA, MEXICO - MARCH 13:Anti-Trump protestors demonstrate on the Mexico side of the border before the arrival of the U.S. President to inspect the prototypes of the proposed border wall on March 13, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The motorcade carrying US President Donald Trump drives past a US-Mexico border fence as Trump head for an inspection of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mounted Border Patrol agents are seen as US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a poster of before and after photos of a segment of the border wall prototypes with Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott (R) in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump's administration has been rocked by a series of resignations of cabinet members and top officials. The uncertainty over a government shutdown weighed on U.S. stocks, which were already sharply lower on the session, with the S&P 500 closing 1.6 percent lower.

The partial shutdown would affect agencies including those responsible for federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration and farm programs.

Trump, who accused Democrats of playing politics on the issue, has said he sees the border wall as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign. Last week in a White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders, he said he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security."

The Senate bill approved on Wednesday had provided a seven-week extension of existing funds for agencies, punting the funding issue into the next Congress.

“We’re just waiting to see what the House is going to do,” said an administration official. “Then we’ll figure out what the next steps are.”

 

PUSH FROM THE RIGHT

Hard-right conservative pundits and lawmakers have urged Trump to push for border wall funding now, even if it leads to a shutdown, arguing that it would be impossible to get once Democrats take control of the House on Jan. 3.

"He (Trump) campaigned on the wall," Republican Representative Mark Meadows said. "It was the center of his campaign ... The American people's patience is running out."

House Republicans lost 40 seats in Nov. 6 congressional elections. Some members who lost their re-election bids are not in Washington, making it unclear whether the party could pass the funding hike. 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.

The amended bill also includes $7.8 billion in aid for states hit by recent natural disasters.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has said including border wall money in the bill would be a "non-starter" for her members. They were, however, open to the disaster aid, she said.

If the government goes into partial shutdown starting on Saturday, it could last until the new Democratic majority takes over in the House. Then it will have enough votes to pass a funding bill to send to the Republican-controlled Senate, leaving it up to Trump to decide whether to veto it.

Trump administration officials were looking for ways to build the wall 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.

During his 2016 campaign Trump repeatedly said Mexico would pay for the border wall but never specified how. Last week he said that a new trade deal his administration had negotiated with Mexico and Canada would generate enough savings to be equivalent to Mexico financing the wall.

The issue of money for the wall also led to a partial government shutdown during a weekend in January and a second funding gap in February lasted only a few hours. Impact on government services was negligible in both cases.

In a 2013 shutdown, conservative Republicans made an unsuccessful effort to use funding bills to repeal President Barack Obama's healthcare law. (Reporting by Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Ginger Gibson; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Makini Brice, Mohammad Zargham and Chuck Mikolajczak; Writing by Roberta Rampton; editing by Bill Trott, Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

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