President Trump vowed to build his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, even if it means first shutting down the government.
Trump made his pledge at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday. It was the president’s clearest statement to date he would not sign any spending bill to keep federal agencies open past Sept. 30 that does not include wall funding.
"Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall," Trump said.
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He quickly tried to shift any blame for a shutdown onto Democrats, saying it was their obstruction that led him to issue the threat.
“Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: You are putting all of America's safety at risk,” he told lawmakers in the minority party. “You're doing that. You're doing that.”
Democrats have said they would not vote for any appropriations measure that includes funding for the wall. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in March -- as Congress was facing another shutdown threat -- that if Republicans insist on funding the wall and addressing other controversial priorities, “they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy.” Schumer reiterated that warning on Wednesday, saying in a statement to Reuters Trump was putting the country on a path toward a shutdown "which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything." Any spending bill would require 60 votes in the Senate to pass.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority leader, said Trump made clear he "will purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall."
"With a Republican House, Senate and administration, Republicans have absolutely no excuses for threatening America’s families with a destructive and pointless government shutdown," Pelosi said.
A “minibus” bill approved in the House, which provides funding in four of the 12 total spending categories, would give the Homeland Security Department $1.6 billion to begin construction on the wall. Customs and Border Protection is reviewing proposals from companies seeking to win the contract to build the wall. Construction of wall prototypes was delayed in July after companies CBP did not select filed protests with the Government Accountability Office.
Trump visited with Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz., on Tuesday before his rally. He called those agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “incredible people” that “we respect and cherish.”
“I heard first hand from the frontline agents about the security threats they confront each and every day, and I pledged my continued resolve to them, and all of you, to keep our country safe,” the president said.
Tuesday was not Trump’s first flirtation with a shutdown; in May, after Congress struck an agreement to fund agencies through September, the president suggested the government needed “a good shutdown” to “fix mess.”
The House is planning to vote en masse on its eight remaining spending bills upon returning from recess, but will have to reconcile its differences with the Senate and win the support of at least some Democrats to avoid an October shutdown. Even if such an agreement is reached, Trump will have the last word.
This story has been updated with comments from congressional Democrats.