White House pulls back from shutdown threat over wall funds

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WASHINGTON | The White House on Tuesday seemed to inch away from forcing a potential government shutdown over funding for a southern border wall, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying there are “other ways” to secure the $5 billion in funding that President Donald Trump has asked for.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talks with reporters outside the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It was the first sign of a possible White House counter offer as the clock winds down toward Friday’s deadline to fund the government.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government,” Sanders said on Fox News. “We want to shut down the border from illegal immigration.”

Trump’s $5 billion is considerably more than the $1.3 billion Democrats have offered, which is not for Trump’s promised wall along the southern border with Mexico, but fencing and other means of security.

Sanders pointed to one bill, likely referring to the Senate’s bipartisan appropriation measure for the Department of Homeland Security, which shells out $26 billion, including $1.6 billion for fencing and other barriers. It was approved by the committee in summer on a bipartisan vote.

“That’s something that we would be able to support,” she said, as long as it’s coupled with other funding, such as using defense money on border security.

What other funds could be utilized to satisfy the president’s demand is not yet known. When asked about using military funds, Sanders said, “There’s certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use that we can couple with the money that would be given through Congressional appropriations that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our borders.”

The fight over Trump’s border wall has brought Congress to a typical standoff just days before Christmas.

It wasn’t always this way, with Congress and the White House at a standstill over government funding. The House and Senate used to pass annual appropriation bills, and the president signed them into law. However, in recent years the shutdown scenario has become so routine that it begs the question: Have shutdowns as a negotiating tool lost their punch?

A partial shutdown that could occur at midnight Friday risks disrupting government operations and causing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to be furloughed or work without pay over the holiday season. Costs would be likely in the billions of dollars.

Trump was meeting with his team and getting regular updates, Sanders said. Trump has also tweeted to keep up the pressure.

Exiting a Senate Republican leadership meeting late Monday, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said, “It looks like it probably is going to have to build for a few days here before there’s a solution.”

The president is insisting on $5 billion for the wall, but he does not have the votes from the Republican-led Congress to support it.

It’s unclear how many House Republicans, with just a few weeks left in the majority before relinquishing power to House Democrats, will even show up midweek for possible votes. Speaker Paul Ryan’s office had no update. Many Republicans say it’s up to Trump and Democrats to cut a deal.