Trump Willing to Hold Off on Border-Wall Funding

By Kristina Peterson and Rebecca Ballhaus Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump is open to waiting until later this year to secure funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, White House officials said Monday night, in a shift that could clear the way for lawmakers to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday.

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Mr. Trump and top administration officials had previously indicated the president wanted to include money to begin building a wall along the Southern border in the bill needed this week to keep the government running after its current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, which is also the president's 100th day in office.

Mr. Trump addressed the issue at a reception with conservative media at the White House Monday night. The president's new flexibility over whether the wall is funded in this spending bill or one that will be needed in late September could remove one of the last remaining hurdles facing congressional Democrats and Republicans hammering out the five-month bill they must pass this week to avoid a partial government shutdown.

Without the debate over the border wall, lawmakers may be able to come to an agreement on the spending bill relatively quickly. Both Democrats and Republicans had signaled they were willing increase money for the military and for broader border security before administration officials last week indicated that Mr. Trump would press for money to begin building the wall.

There had been little appetite among Republicans on Capitol Hill to demand funding now for the border wall specifically, rather than offer a general boost for tighter border security. Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass the spending legislation in the Senate, had said they would oppose a spending bill that included money to start building the border wall.

It's good for the country that President Trump is taking the wall off the table in these negotiations," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in a statement Monday night. Earlier Monday, Mr. Schumer had said the wall was a "nonstarter" for Democrats. "Now the bipartisan and bicameral negotiators can continue working on the outstanding issues, " he said.

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Democratic votes will be needed, because Republicans hold just 52 seats in the Senate, where spending bills need 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles. House GOP leaders will also likely have to rely on some Democratic help, since some conservative Republicans are expected to oppose it.

Many Republicans had indicated they would be satisfied with a spending bill that included money for means of strengthening security along the border other than a wall.

"Border security's the main issue -- whether that includes a wall or technology, drones, or repairing what we have," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.) said Monday evening. Ms. Capito said she wasn't interested in risking a shutdown over the border wall. "I'm not going to risk a shutdown over anything," she said.

Other Republicans echoed that their top priority was making sure they crafted a spending bill that could clear both chambers before the government runs out of money.

"I wouldn't mind funding the wall, but it's a question of what we can do up here, what's doable," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In March, the administration asked Congress for $1.4 billion in spending for the current fiscal year for the wall, with an additional $2.6 billion for the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1. Administration officials said the fiscal 2017 money would pay for 48 miles of new border and levee wall systems, and 14 miles of replacement fencing, as well as some technology improvements and road construction.

One issue that remains unresolved is whether the five-month spending bill under negotiation would include payments to health insurers known as "cost-sharing reductions," as requested by Democrats.

The payments support Affordable Care Act insurance plans by helping insurers lower costs for low-income consumers. An abrupt withdrawal of the payments would pose an immediate threat to health-insurance markets, potentially triggering the collapse of health plans midyear.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 24, 2017 21:32 ET (01:32 GMT)