Another fastball blows by His Trumpness.
Sorry, no Wall today.
PoliticsThreat of Government Shutdown Fades as Trump Retreats on Wall
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER, MATT FLEGENHEIMER and PETER BAKERAPRIL 25, 2017
Three days before the deadline to avert a government shutdown, congressional leaders were negotiating a spending proposal on Tuesday that would supply no money for President Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico but would increase funding for White House priorities like the military and other types of border security.
Lawmakers in both parties expressed confidence that a deal could be reached before the lights go out, a prediction that seemed safer as Mr. Trump backed off his demand that the border wall receive funding in this measure.
“Hopefully we’ll reach an agreement sometime in the next couple of days,” said the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, though he did not rule out a short-term extension to buy lawmakers more time for a final agreement.
Several obstacles remain, most notably the fate of payments to health insurers to lower deductibles and other costs for low-income consumers who buy plans through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold the subsidy payments, which are the subject of a lawsuit, as leverage in negotiations with Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass any spending bill in the Senate.
Democrats have now turned that threat on its head, insisting that the payments — which the administration has quietly continued to make — be guaranteed as part of any deal. “Six million people could lose their health care, which could become unaffordable,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.
The House Democratic whip, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said the payments were something Republicans “need to do for the American people, not as a ‘give’ to Democrats in negotiations.”
Another central point in the negotiations is a dispute over health benefits for retired miners who may lose their coverage, an issue that led to a near shutdown last year. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and other Democrats want those benefits extended, and miners have been a big constituency for Mr. Trump. On Tuesday, Mr. McConnell said he supported “a permanent fix on miners’ health care.”
“It’s my hope that that will be included in the final package,” he said.
Democrats would also like to see Congress bail out Puerto Rico’s ailing Medicaid program as part of the deal.
One fact suggests that both Republicans and Democrats have gotten much of what they wanted in the spending bill: They have strikingly avoided the sort of inflamed talk that is often a part of fights over budgets.
After a fractious period in the Capitol — cresting this month with Democrats’ filibuster of Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, and Republicans’ deployment of the so-called nuclear option to confirm him — members seemed modestly hopeful for a reset of sorts.
“This is a good time to stabilize the government,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri and a member of the Appropriations Committee. “And then whatever debates we didn’t have in the next three days, we could have in the next three months or three years.”
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continued negotiations on Tuesday, White House and Senate staff members seemed to agree that the wall had been reduced to something like a metaphor for broad-based border security funding, which is all but certain to end up in a final spending package.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, praised Mr. Trump for relenting.
“He’s not going to overplay his hand,” Mr. Graham said. “Here’s the challenge to the Democrats: Are you going to overplay your hand?”
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At the very least, Democrats seemed inclined to declare victory on the wall for now.
Mr. Schumer — whose caucus is delighting this week in pointing out areas in which Mr. Trump has fallen short of campaign promises as he approaches his 100th day in office — exulted on Tuesday in the wall’s near-term fate. “For weeks, we have been making good progress in negotiating with our Republican colleagues,” Mr. Schumer said. “The president’s 11th-hour demand threatened to upend the progress. We’re pleased he’s backing off.”
At the same time, Mr. Trump took care to avoid the appearance of acquiescence on the wall, eager to reinforce his long-term commitment. “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking, etc.”
Mr. Trump is showing “some reasonableness on the wall,” the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said. He said the president was willing to talk about finding a compromise, even while seeking to put Democrats on the defensive.
Speaking later to reporters at the White House, Mr. Trump went so far as to say the wall would be built in his first term, regardless of this week’s spending measure.
“The wall is going to get built,” he said. “Just in case anybody has any question, the wall is going to get built.”
Asked when, he said: “Soon. We’re already preparing. We’re doing plans. We’re doing specifications. We’re doing a lot of work on the wall, and the wall gets built.”
The current legislation would keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. But the president could refocus his battle for wall construction in spending bills for the next fiscal year.
The promise to build a wall — or, actually, to extend a series of barriers that already exist along parts of the border — was a central theme of Mr. Trump’s campaign. Not only would he protect the United States from a tide of immigrants coming across the border illegally, he said, but Mexico would pay for it.
But the cost estimates for the wall have gone up, and Mexico has made clear it has no intention of spending money on it.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, has said that Mr. Trump is still determined to make Mexico pay, but that he will proceed first with American tax dollars.
“The president has been very clear” that “in order to get the ball rolling on border security and the wall, that he was going to have to use the current appropriations process,” Mr. Spicer said. “But he would make sure that that promise would be kept as far as the payment of it.”
Mr. Spicer insisted that Mexico would eventually pay.
Mr. Trump initially estimated during the campaign that the wall would cost $12 billion, but the figure has soared since then. A Department of Homeland Security internal report in February estimated that the wall could cost about $21.6 billion. A report issued by Senate Democrats last week put the cost far higher, at nearly $70 billion.
Even without the wall, illegal crossings of the southwestern border have been falling significantly. The number of people apprehended fell 40 percent from January to February and 30 percent from February to March, according to Customs and Border Protection.
The White House has attributed that to Mr. Trump’s tough talk and increased enforcement. Since November, when Mr. Trump was elected, illegal crossings have fallen by nearly 75 percent.