U.S. partial shutdown drags into 10th day
WASHINGTON -- House Democrats are introducing a package of bills Monday that would re-open the federal government without approving money for President Donald Trump's border wall.
The House is preparing to vote as soon as the new Congress convenes Thursday, as one of the first acts after Democrats take control, according to an aide who was not authorized to discuss the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The package to end the shutdown will include one bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels, with US$1.3 billion for border security, through Feb. 8.
It will also include six other bipartisan bills -- some that have already passed the Senate -- to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. They would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.
Democrats under Nancy Pelosi are all but certain to swiftly approve the package in two separate votes planned for Thursday. What's unclear is whether the Republican-led Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will consider it or if Trump would sign it into law.
The partial government shutdown is in its second week over Trump's demand for US$5 billion for the wall. Republican senators left for the holidays refusing to vote on any bills until all sides, including Trump, were in agreement. Senators were frustrated that Trump had dismissed their earlier legislation.
The president continued to insist he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite the assertions of three confidants.
"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED," Trump tweeted Monday. "Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides)."
Trump's comments came after officials, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president's signature campaign pledge to build the wall would not be fulfilled as advertised. White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."
"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and "steel slat" barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.
Along the same lines, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction "a silly semantic argument."
"There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements," Conway told "Fox News Sunday." "But only saying 'wall or no wall' is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that "the wall has become a metaphor for border security" and referred to "a physical barrier along the border."
Graham said Trump was "open-minded" about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of "Dreamers" -- young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children -- broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.
Graham told CNN before his lunch with Trump that "there will never be a deal without wall funding."
The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking any funding for the wall, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.
In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.
"Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a 'fence,"' he tweeted. "It's not a fence, Jeb, it's a WALL, and there's a BIG difference!"
Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!"
Trump tweeted Monday to Democrats: "come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall."