10 Jan 2019

Trump throws 'tantrum' over wall funding, US government shutdown

1:34 pm on 10 January 2019

In what Democrats called a "temper tantrum", US President Donald Trump has stormed out of a meeting over funding for a wall along the Mexican border and seeking an end to the shutdown of the government.

United States President Donald Trump talks to the press after the Republican Policy luncheo on January 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. L-R: Senator John Barrasso, US Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Photo: AFP / Olivier Douliery / Pool

Mr Trump's latest meeting with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi came 19 days into the shutdown of the US government.

Mr Trump has demanded $US5.7bn to build a steel barrier, which would deliver on a key campaign pledge, but Democrats - who this month took over the House of Representatives - have refused.

About 800,000 federal workers will go without pay this week for the first time since the shutdown began due to the lack of agreement to fund nine federal agencies. If the shutdown continues into the weekend it will become the longest in US history.

Mr Schumer told reporters the president had abruptly left when Mrs Pelosi said she would not approve any wall funding.

"He [Mr Trump] asked Speaker Pelosi, 'will you agree to my wall?' She said no," the Senate Democratic leader said.

"And he just got up and said, 'then we have nothing to discuss,' and he just walked out.

"Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn't get his way."

Mr Trump tweeted after leaving the meeting, saying it had been a "total waste of time".

"I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!," the President wrote.

Mrs Pelosi, who is speaker of the House of Representatives, said the legion of unpaid federal employees were "collateral damage" to Mr Trump.

"The president seems to be insensitive to that," she said. "He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can't."

Mr Schumer also said Mr Trump had "slammed the table", but senior Republican congressman Steve Scalise denied this.

US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi (Dem, California) talks to reporters after meeting with US President Donald Trump, flanked by US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Dem, Maryland), US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Dem, NY) and US Senator Dick Durbin (Rep, Illinois).

Photo: AFP / Martin H. Simon / CNP

Mr Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency over the border "crisis", in a bid to bypass congressional approval and build the wall.

The only Republican who represents a district along the border with Mexico - Texan senator Will Hurd - voted with Democrats last week for a continuation of $1.3bn for border fencing and says he does not support the $5.7bn for a wall as a waste of money.

"The communities along the border are some of the safest communities in the united states of America and that's been the case for an exceptionally long time.

"There are parts of the border where border patrol's response time is measured in hours to days. If your response time is measured in hours to day then a wall is actually not a physical barrier, it's a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars."

Possible scenarios

A deal is made

As ordinary Americans begin to feel the impact of the closure of about a quarter of the government, both sides could feel the heat from voters and move to do a deal, perhaps focused on:

  • Dreamers: Latin Americans who were brought into the US illegally as children. Mr Trump could offer to protect them from deportation in return for wall money. A deal along those lines was nearly achieved previously but collapsed.
  • Barrier, not wall: Mr Trump has insisted on funding for a "wall," but lately has shifted to talking about steel fencing in the hope the term is less politically charged. Mr Trump could then claim victory while Democrats could say they blocked the wall.
  • Other border security: There are many additional ways to fortify the US-Mexico border, such as deploying more all-terrain vehicles and border guards on horses. Large metal detectors also could be installed to scan trucks and buses for illegal activities.
  • Follow the money: A dollar-figure bargain could be reached somewhere between Mr Trump's demand for $5.7bn in wall funding and the Democrats' offer of $1.6bn for border security.
  • Trump declares national emergency

    Mr Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency, saying that illegal immigration jeopardizes US security and empowers him to redirect existing federal funds to build his wall, perhaps by tapping Defense Department accounts. Under the Constitution, Congress holds the power to make decisions about spending US tax money.

    Such a step would escalate what is now a policy dispute into a fight over presidential powers. Democrats would almost certainly move to block Trump, likely starting a protracted court battle.

    Democrats fold

    Mrs Pelosi and Mr Schumer have vowed they will not give Trump any money to build a wall. It seems unlikely given the political climate, but as the shutdown grinds on they could have second thoughts.

    Mr Trump's approval rating continues to hover around 40 percent. Polls show plenty of skepticism among voters about the need for a wall, and a growing proportion of Americans now blame the President for the shutdown - even as most Republicans are supportive.

    Trump backs down

    Mr Trump, whose main responsibility as president is to make sure the federal government carries out its duties, could find the shutdown too politically hazardous.

    Closed national parks and museums is one thing, but US airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay have been warning that security and safety could be compromised if the government shutdown continues. Union officials said some TSA officers had already quit.

    Mr Trump has promised for years to build his wall, initially saying Mexico would pay for it, and has repeatedly attacked Democrats for standing in his way.

    Democrats on Wednesday began advancing agency-by-agency funding bills in the House that would then go to the Senate. Republicans there would then have to decide whether to approve the bills or block them in the name of Mr Trump's wall project.

    Blocking a bill to fund the Treasury Department, for example, might delay Americans' tax refunds.

    So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not indicated any interest in staging votes on those bills.

    - Reuters / BBC

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