Has Trump caved on border wall funding to keep the government open?

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell appeared before the media yesterday and said there would be no partial shutdown of the government on Friday because the White House had backed off its demand that Congress approve $5 billion in funding for the border wall.

McConnell thinks the president would accept a short-term funding bill and not insist on funding the wall.

Oh, really?

When it comes to Donald Trump, expect the unexpected.  Expect the president to blow up conventional wisdom.  And expect Trump to ignore his party leaders and do what he has always done: whatever the hell he wants.


McConnell's efforts to soothe an inflamed debate between the president and Democratic leaders capped a day of unsuccessful negotiations between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and a softening public position from the White House.  Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated the president could accept less than the $5 billion from Congress that he had previously demanded, and Schumer did not rule out a short-term spending bill that would punt the border fight to next year.

Trump, of course, revels in the daily drama and, on Tuesday, refused to admit defeat or pledge that he would win the standoff.  After McConnell and Schumer spoke to reporters, the president said he wants more border security and was coy on whether he'll sign whatever Congress sends him.  "We'll see what happens," he told the news media.

Schumer already thinks he's won.  When Democrats take control of the House in January, the always iffy chances for funding a border wall will disappear completely.  The Democratic minority leader knows this and will be playing for time by agreeing to a short-term – perhaps less than 60 days – spending measure.

In fact, Democrats think they have Trump over a barrel:

Earlier Tuesday, McConnell suggested to Democrats that they pass the bipartisan Senate homeland security funding bill and its $1.6 billion for fencing plus an additional $1 billion in spending Trump could use on the wall, which Schumer deemed a "slush fund."

The Democratic leader soon called McConnell to reject the proposal and stood behind a bill offering flat funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which would provide $1.3 billion for fencing.

"The Republican offer today would not pass either chamber," Schumer told reporters.  He said his caucus would "very seriously" consider a short-term spending bill, which would thrust a spending fight into the lap of presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the beginning of the new Congress.

The round of failed talks followed a key breakthrough: Sanders admitting publicly that Trump would take less than $5 billion in border wall funding from Congress as a condition for keeping the government funded.  She said on Fox News that the administration would work with Hill leaders on passing a bipartisan bill providing $1.6 billion in fencing and would try to move more money around within the government to fund the border wall. Schumer said he would withhold congressional approval for that.

You'd think they'd know by now that Trump does not play by their rules.

Sanders can say whatever she wants.  She gets her marching orders from top White House aides.  McConnell can also declare whatever he wants.  He's getting his information from the president's advisers.

But no one has yet been able to penetrate the mind of the president.  And my guess is, Trump knows that his chance for funding the border wall is slipping away, and he will dig in, trying to force compromise.  Chuck Schumer's celebrating may be a bit premature.  McConnell's original proposal for wall spending is the basis for a compromise, and Trump might see a shutdown and the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal workers as a victory that his base would cheer. 

In fact, even if Trump signs off on a short-term fix, that doesn't mean he won't shut down the government with the House Democrats in control.  This battle is not over, and with the importance Trump attaches to his signature campaign promise to build a wall, it's likely he's not giving up.

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