WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump conceded on Friday there was a good chance the Senate would not approve his demand for $5 billion toward funding his border wall project and that there probably would be a government shutdown beginning at midnight.
Before meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House, Trump had written on Twitter that “Democrats now own the shutdown,” despite having said last week that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue of border security and “I’ll be the one to shut it down.”
“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he said in a tweet.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer refused to take the blame.
“President Trump, you own the shutdown,” he said on the Senate floor. “You said so in your own words.”
Republican Senators Bob Corker and Richard Shelby said negotiations were under way to see if a compromise funding bill could be shaped.
Trump had summoned Senate Republicans to the White House on Friday morning to push for his wall funding before they took up procedural votes on whether to consider a bill passed by the House of Representatives granting $5 billion for the wall. But afterward he said there was a good chance the bill would not clear the Senate and that a shutdown was likely.
The procedural vote had the potential to be a drawn-out affair as many senators who had left Washington to start their Christmas break were trickling back to work.
Earlier in the week the Senate, where Republicans have a 51-49 majority, passed a short-term government funding bill that included no money for the wall. On Friday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his members to vote for a bill that was approved by the House on Thursday to give Trump $5 billion toward building the wall on the Mexican border — one of the major themes of his presidency.
Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio expressed frustration with what they said was a shifting position by the White House. Rubio said that earlier in the week the Republicans had supported the funding bill without wall money because Vice President Mike Pence had told them the White House was open to such a proposal.
“We had a reasonable path and there was every indication from the president that he would sign it,” Alexander said.
In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump called on McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with a simple majority, rather than the standard “supermajority” of 60 votes. But there was not enough support among Republican senators to do so.
The threat of a US government shutdown, which would leave thousands of federal workers idled at Christmas, continued to fuel investor anxieties on Friday over the trajectory of global economic growth as world stocks extended a steep sell-off.
The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won.
Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through the end of the federal fiscal year next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services.
But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Agriculture Department, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.
If the House measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have pledged to deny it passage. It remained unclear what would happen if the House measure fails there.
A partial government shutdown could begin, with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety. Such critical workers, including US border agents, and nonessential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.
Alternatively, lawmakers could seek a solution that Trump finds acceptable, although it was unclear what that would be.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump was “not going to back down on this fight” and would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned.
Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and he sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.