Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose relationship with Trump has, according to The New York Times, disintegrated in recent weeks, issued a bland statement saying that he and the president were still working to advance “their shared goals.” He listed half a dozen of them, but a border wall didn’t make the cut.
With Republicans offering little cover to the president, Democrats dug in even deeper. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized a border wall as “immoral” and accused Trump of threatening to “purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall.” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has even more leverage, since Republicans would need the support of at least eight Democrats to overcome a filibuster of a spending bill that included money for the wall. “If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” Schumer said.
House Republicans last month passed an appropriations bill that included $1.6 billion toward construction of the border wall, but that measure is seen as a non-starter in the Senate, and not just among Democrats. Republicans like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a recent Trump target, have said they’d only support the project if Mexico paid for it as the president repeatedly promised on the campaign trail.
Wall funding would be part of an omnibus appropriations bill, but Congress might not get around to writing one until the end of the year, just before lawmakers head home for the holidays. The House and Senate must pass a spending bill by September 30 to avoid a shutdown, but Ryan on Wednesday all but guaranteed that measure would be a stopgap bill known as a continuing resolution and as such, unlikely to include money for the border wall. “We’re going to need more time to complete our appropriations process, particularly in the Senate,” Ryan said. The speaker said he supported funding for “a physical barrier” along the border, but he expressed little urgency in approving the money quickly.
Even fervent supporters of the project in the House were unwilling to predict the showdown Trump is looking for. “I don’t think anybody wants to shut down government, and I don’t think leadership has the appetite to shut down government,” Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona told me on Wednesday after attending the president’s speech in Phoenix. “I do believe that my constituency expects me to fight for funding for that border fence with the strongest leverage and tools that I have available,” he added.
Biggs is a freshman lawmaker who represents an Arizona district that does not include the border, but he grew up in the southern part of the state and said a wall was “essential in my world.” He’s also a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which has in recent days ramped up its push for the border wall in line with Trump’s request. Still, Biggs said he didn’t yet know what he would do if Ryan asked for his vote on a spending bill that did not include wall funding, if the consequence of failure was a government shutdown. “It’s hard for me to say that I would foreclose funding for certain military obligations and certain essential and necessary services,” he told me. “I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude on that.”