Trump's latest threat to Republicans is a gift to Democrats: GOP fears shutdown before midterms

Trump's position reverses his stance since June, when he told GOP to avoid border issues until after the election

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 30, 2018 12:28PM (EDT)

 (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Evan Vucci/Don Ryan)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Evan Vucci/Don Ryan)

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to make it clear that he wants the Republican-controlled Congress to pass as much funding as he deems necessary for his border wall — regardless of the potential political cost.

"I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT!" Trump tweeted on Sunday. "We need great people coming into our Country!"

He followed up those sentiments with a similar tweet on Monday: "We must have Border Security, get rid of Chain, Lottery, Catch & Release Sanctuary Cities - go to Merit based Immigration. Protect ICE and Law Enforcement and, of course, keep building, but much faster, THE WALL!"

These tweets, however, directly contradict the stance that Trump took back in June when he urged his fellow Republicans to avoid touching the potentially toxic immigration issue until after the 2018 midterm elections had transpired in November.

"Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's position also contradicts the stated wishes of Republican Party leadership in Congress as well as the wishes of many of its rank-and-file members.

The president's willing to be patient to make sure that we get what we need so that we can get that done, because border security's extremely important,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said on Thursday.

Ryan's reference to a short-term measure refers to the larger debate about Trump's border wall funding. Because the federal government is set to run out of money on September 30, it will be necessary for Congress to pass some kind of spending deal to keep the government operational after that deadline has expired. Yet Congress is currently stuck between two versions of a border wall spending bill — the more generous House version, which would spend $5 billion on "physical barriers and associated technology on the southern border," and the stingier Senate version, which spends $1.6 billion for pedestrian fencing in the Rio Grande Valley as well as for spending on border security technology.

One solution to this and other financing problems would be for Congress to pass a short-term spending bill, which could buy Congress enough time to figure out exactly how much it wants to ultimately appropriate for Trump's border wall. It is a view that seems to be shared by many of Ryan's and McConnell's congressional colleagues.

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"Nobody wants to see a shutdown. And with a little bit of cooperation on both sides, we’re very close," Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., told ABC News.

His view was echoed by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who said that "there is no discussion up here about a shutdown. Neither side wants it."

If there is a government shutdown in September and October over the border wall funding, it will come at a particularly inauspicious time for the Republican Party. Republican bickering over funding measures led to a government shutdown for 69 hours in January of this year as well as a nine hour funding lapse in the following month. Disputes over immigration issues factored into the dynamics that caused the government shutdown at that time as well, making it an eerie parallel for the situation that the GOP could face in September and October.

On the one hand, considering that Republicans were not blamed any more than Democrats after the previous shutdown, it stands to reason that Trump's threat here may not actually pose a risk to the GOP. Then again, if Republicans wind up being wrong and a shutdown does get blamed on them — such as they bore the blame during the infamous Newt Gingrich-led shutdown in the 1990s — that predicament would be especially ill-timed. With the midterm elections taking place in November, it would provide Democrats with ideal ammunition to use against them.

It also doesn't help Republicans that Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the border wall he touted during his campaign.

"Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican C.E.O.s and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards — of which we issue about one million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all Nafta worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico (tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options)," Trump said in a campaign statement at the time.

During a speech in Philadelphia less than a week after being inaugurated, Trump seemed to reinforce the idea that Mexico would be forced to pay for the border wall.

"We’re working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the wall if we decide to go that route," Trump told his audience.

Seven months later, Trump repeated that line of reasoning during a news conference at the White House.

"It may be through reimbursement, but one way or the other, Mexico will pay for the wall. . . . So we need the wall. It’s imperative," Trump explained at the time.

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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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