President Donald Trump may not take seriously his threat to force Mexico to pay for a wall to keep undocumented migrants out, but in order to save face he may be willing to force a federal government shutdown should Congress fail to earmark taxpayer money to get the project rolling.
According to Axios, some Republicans are whispering that Trump’s wall will get little more than symbolic treatment as Congress hammers together a bill to fund the federal government before an Oct. 1 deadline.
Lawmakers have a full plate even without dealing with Trump’s wall, including raising the debt ceiling and reauthorizing the program that provides publicly funded health insurance to children. Since any funding bill requires a 60-vote majority, Republicans will be compelled to work with Democrats.
A likely scenario would be to extend government funding to the end of the year while Congress grapples with deep partisan divisions over spending priorities, including border security. Congressional leaders could find a way to make Trump feel like progress is being made to secure the border, which was one of the president’s key promises to his supporters. Whether that means devoting public funds to the wall project or other measures is yet to be seen. Congress could offer other measures, such as dedicating funds to battle MS-13 — the notorious criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s, comprised mainly of ethnic Central Americans. Trump recently pledged to “destroy” MS-13.
Last month, the House of Representatives earmarked $1.6 billion to be put toward the wall, a fraction of the estimated cost of the project that Mexican leaders have repeatedly said they will not fund. But that measure was tucked into a bill to fund several federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, so Republicans who oppose spending taxpayer money to build the wall weren’t forced to vote against it.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates the wall would cost nearly $22 billion, excluding annual maintenance, but Democrats have put out their own estimate of $70 billion, including $150 million a year to maintain.
Trump himself doesn’t seem to be very serious about forcing Mexico to pay for the wall. According to a leaked transcript of his conversation with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump is more concerned about the political backlash, and he demanded the Mexican leader stop saying that the U.S. taxpayers would wind up paying for the project.
“[Y]ou cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall,” Trump told Peña Nieto, according to the transcript published Thursday in The Washington Post.
“I am just going to say that we are working it out,” he continued. “Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important [to] talk about.”
Trump has said repeatedly that the wall would cost much less than the estimates he’s been given. But whatever the price, it’s very possible that whatever the cost, U.S. taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill.