Democrats in the House of Representatives are planning a vote on Thursday on a funding package to end the 10-day-old partial U.S. government shutdown without providing the $5 billion President Donald Trump has demanded for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The planned vote sets up a Democratic showdown with Trump's fellow Republicans on an issue dear to the president on the first day of divided government in Washington since he took office in January 2017 with a Congress led by his own party. Democrats formally take control of the House from the Republicans on Thursday after winning a majority of seats in November's congressional elections.
The two-part Democratic package filed on Monday in the House included a bill to keep funding for the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Feb. 8 with $1.3 billion for border security, as well as a bundle of six measures to fund other shuttered agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year. The two parts will be voted on separately on the House floor on Thursday, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said.
If approved in the House, the government funding package would go to the Republican-led Senate. Its Senate prospects appear unpromising, although Trump's unpredictability makes it hard to gauge how the shutdown showdown will play out.
The Democratic legislation will mark the first major battle pitting the incoming Democratic House majority led by Nancy Pelosi against Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“While President Trump drags the nation into Week Two of the Trump Shutdown and sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress, Democrats are taking action to lead our country out of this mess," Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
A spokesman for McConnell, Don Stewart, said: "It's simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the president that he won't sign."
Democrats oppose Trump's demand for wall funding, with Pelosi calling the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive.
Democrats expect their two-pronged funding approach could put Trump and his Republican allies in a tough position. If they reject funding bills for departments unconnected to border security, Republicans could be seen as holding those agencies and their roughly 800,000 affected workers hostage to Trump's wall demand. Those include the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Commerce and Justice.
The homeland security piece of the package is based on a measure that has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
The shutdown, which began on Dec. 22 and has idled roughly a quarter of the federal government, was precipitated by Trump's demand, under pressure from conservative commentators, that Congress approve $5 billion to help fund a wall that was a promise made in his 2016 election campaign, although he said at the time it would be paid for by Mexico.
Trump has called the wall crucial to combating illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The Senate on Dec. 21 failed to muster the votes needed to pass Republican-backed House legislation that included Trump's wall funding.
'NOT A WALL'
A central issue in finding a resolution could be the definition of what constitutes a wall, including the idea of steel slats and other types of barriers versus a concrete structure.
Trump on Twitter criticized Democratic opposition to the wall project, which carries a total estimated price tag of $23 billion. He also seemed to contradict comments made by outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
In a Los Angeles Times interview published on Sunday, Kelly said: "To be honest, it's not a wall."
"The president still says 'wall' - oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it," Kelly added.
Trump wrote on Twitter that border security could not exist "without a strong and powerful Wall."
"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media," Trump wrote. "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). Makes sense to me!"
Trump, who canceled his vacation in Florida and has stayed at the White House during the holiday government shutdown, said Democrats could have come over for talks anytime.
"I'm in Washington. I'm ready, willing and able," Trump told Fox News.
White House officials did not reply to an email asking whether the president had been in touch directly with Democratic leaders to set up a round of talks.
Pelosi has not heard formally from the White House since Dec. 11, when she and Schumer had a contentious Oval Office meeting with the president, Democratic aides said. Schumer has not heard from the White House since he met with Vice President Mike Pence and incoming White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Dec. 22, Democratic aides said.
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