White House Backs Down on Border Wall Funding Demand, But Dems Don't Like $1B Immigration 'Slush Fund'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — A Christmas government shutdown looks less likely now that the White House has backed off from President Trump’s demand of at least $5 billion for border wall funding in the homeland security appropriations bill.

But Democrats still aren’t sold on the White House proposal that includes a billion-dollar fund to be used for immigration matters unrelated to border fencing.

The Senate version of the appropriations bill includes $1.6 billion for border fencing, but no concrete wall as envisioned by Trump.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today that other agencies are being asked to look at ways to raid their own coffers to cobble together the money.

“We’re looking at every avenue available to us possible. The president’s asked every one of his cabinet secretaries to look for funding that can be used to protect our borders and give the president the ability to fulfill his constitutional obligation to protect the American people by having a secure border,” she said. “So, we’re looking at the other options. In the meantime, we’ll see what the Senate does, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that front.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Appropriations Vice Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) met this morning to discuss the way forward with a Friday shutdown deadline.

“We had a discussion about a proposal that we offered that I thought was reasonable to both sides to give us an opportunity to, in effect, thread the needle on the border security issue,” McConnell said. “I’ve heard back from Senator Schumer that the offer was not acceptable and so now I’m in consultation with the White House about the way forward and we’ll have more to say about that, hopefully a little bit later about what the president is willing to sign. I might say the administration is extremely flexible on this issue and we were obviously consulted before I sat down with Senator Schumer and Senator Leahy.”

Asked how he convinced the president that a government shutdown wasn’t the correct way forward, McConnell said, “Well, he can speak for himself, but I think that a government shutdown is not a good option. That’s my view. The American people don’t like it. I don’t know how many times, you remember my favorite country saying, there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. We’ve been down this path before and I don’t believe we’ll go down this path again.”

Schumer characterized the extra non-wall billion sought by the White House as a “slush fund for the president to use for his radical immigration agenda.”

“After the meeting, I spoke to Leader Pelosi and I called Leader McConnell and told him we would not accept their $1 billion slush fund and that our offers to fund the government remain,” he told reporters. “Let me be clear, the Republican offer would not pass either chamber.”

A short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open and punt the border funding issue to next year is something Dems would “certainly very seriously” consider, he noted. “…Our job right now is to get the government funded without a wall.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) similarly told reporters that “we are not supporting what they proposed, which is a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his immigration policies.”

“I think that the White House has backed off the wall and that terminology but what they might want to do with that billion dollars is problematic,” she added.

Citing her fondness for quoting Ronald Reagan, Pelosi continued, “America’s preeminence in the world, springs from every new generation of immigrants who comes to our country. If we fail to recognize that, we will fail to be preeminent in the world. We cannot close the door, he said. You should see it, Ronald Reagan’s last speech. That’s who we are as a country. That’s not who we are – our values are not reflected in what is happening on the border. What the slush fund could do is more of the same as is what is happening on the border.”

McConnell said he doesn’t feel Pelosi “has little latitude to make a deal.”

“Now, I’m going to say if I were in her shoes I would rather not be dealing with this year’s business next year. I would assume her preference would be to roll out the new Democratic agenda by the fresh new Democratic Congress in the early stages,” he said. “But I think this prevents that. If we end up going with a relatively short-term CR, we will end up, in effect, punting this year’s business into next year. I think it’s not a very desirable outcome from anybody’s point of view. I think would be the least desirable outcome of the incoming speaker’s point of view.”