By Erica Werner and Sean Sullivan
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer Wednesday called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to intervene in the government shutdown fight over President Trump’s border wall and “help pull the president back from the brink.”
Schumer’s Senate floor comments came a day after a dramatic Oval Office meeting between Trump, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, during which Trump declared he’d be proud to shut down the government to get the money he wants for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.
A partial government shutdown will begin at the end of next week unless Trump and Democrats break an impasse over Trump’s demands for $5 billion for his border wall for 2019. Democrats are offering him only $1.3 billion for fencing, which continues existing funding levels and does not give Trump more wall money.
During Tuesday’s meeting, with cameras rolling, Trump told Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi (D-Calif.): “I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.” Trump said he would be proud to do it and wouldn’t blame it on Schumer.
Trump’s declaration that he would own a potential shutdown undercut weeks-long attempts by Republicans and members of Trump’s own administration to brand it a “Schumer Shutdown.”
Republicans also say it’s up to Trump and Democrats to reach a deal. But in face of an apparent impasse, Schumer said it’s time for McConnell (R-Ky.) to get involved. He also warned that Democrats who will take over the House in January will pass the Democrats’ preferred solution — $1.3 billion for fencing — as a first order of business and send it to the Senate.
“Leader McConnell says he doesn’t want a shutdown, but he refuses to engage with the president to tell him what is transparently obvious to everyone else — there will be no additional money for the wall,” Schumer said. “The idea that Sen. McConnell has nothing to do with appropriations as majority leader of the Senate who still is on that committee does not withstand the slightest scrutiny.”
Asked for a response, McConnell aides pointed to comments the majority leader made on Tuesday following the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer meeting, in which he decried the idea of a shutdown.
“Well I hope that’s not where we end up. I understand it was a rather spirited meeting we all watched, but I’d still like to see a smooth ending here and I haven’t given up hope that that’s what we’ll have,” McConnell said at the time.
“One thing I think is pretty clear no matter who precipitates the government shutdown, the American people don’t like it,” McConnell said. “And I hope that will be avoided and that both sides will understand that’s not a great way to end what has, in my view, been the most successful right-of-center Congress in decades.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) spoke with Trump following Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting and told reporters later, “I don’t believe he’s bluffing.”
“I think the president is on firm ground here. We need the money,” Graham said. “And the only reason they are not giving it to him is because they just don’t want to help him.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Pelosi and Trump tussled about whether Republicans would even have the votes to get a $5 billion wall bill through the House — with Trump saying they did and Pelosi saying they didn’t.
House GOP leaders are now weighing bringing that legislation to the floor, but it has not been scheduled. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Fox News on Tuesday that he was confident they have the votes. But many GOP members who lost their elections or are retiring have been absent in recent days and leadership could struggle to round of the needed votes.
“We’re so far gone from reality I just don’t think it’s doable,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a retiring member who has opposed some of Trump’s immigration policies. “Even if the president were to pass it in the House, I don’t think there’s much enthusiasm in the Senate to pass it. … I’m not in favor if it, but I’m just one more lemming here.”
At the same time, Trump’s wall remains a priority for many conservative lawmakers who campaigned on the issue and have one final chance to deliver on it before losing the majority.
“I know most members are pressuring leaders to vote on the border bill,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus. “I don’t speak for the president but certainly believe he would encourage immediate action. I certainly support a vote this week.”
Trump long claimed Mexico would pay for the wall — a claim he repeated Tuesday to Pelosi, saying that the money would come from the newly renegotiated North America trade deal. Pelosi dismissed that idea.
Following their meeting Tuesday afternoon, Trump called Pelosi and they spoke briefly, with Trump saying the White House would get back to Democrats on their offer.
Funding for the Homeland Security Department and a number of other agencies, which are now operating on a short-term spending bill, will dry up Dec. 21 at midnight without action by Congress and Trump. Those agencies comprise about 25 percent of government spending. The Pentagon and some larger agencies have already been funded through next September.
Trump on Wednesday wrote on Twitter that Democrats should fund the border wall, citing a shooting in France and payments associated former president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal as evidence the country needed a border wall and could afford to build one.
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