WASHINGTON — White House officials on Tuesday appeared to end their threat of a partial government shutdown over Christmas, saying they will find ways to fund President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall through other means.
At a Dec. 11 Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders, Trump initially indicated that he would not sign funding legislation that did not include at least $5 billion to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
At the time, Trump said that he would be “proud” to shut down the government in the name of border security.
But in an interview on Fox News Channel Tuesday morning, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration was reviewing a series of options to get about $5 billion in disputed funding for the wall project, but backtracked on Trump’s previous comments that he would shut down federal agencies if Democrats did not provide the money in a budget bill this week.
"At the end of the day we don't want to shut down the government,” she said. “We want to shut down the border from illegal immigration, from drugs coming into this country and make sure we know who is coming and why they're coming."
Sanders told reporters at a Dec. 18 press briefing that the White House plans to wait and see what Congress is able to pass before making a determination of what Trump will or will not sign. In the meantime, the administration is asking Cabinet secretaries to look for any funding in their own budgets they may be able to spare for the border wall.
She said that the White House is in contact with congressional Republicans and Democrats, negotiating a budget bill to avoid a partial shutdown this week. Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to pass a budget extension or a full-year funding deal for a host of agencies.
House lawmakers are scheduled to return to town on Wednesday for their final legislative session of the year. Senate lawmakers arrived on Capitol Hill on Monday, but have expressed frustration with the lack of progress in negotiations so far.
Without the pressure of coming to a border wall funding decision that Trump would sign off on, members of Congress are likely to have a much easier time passing appropriations for those parts of government that have not yet received fiscal 2019 appropriations.
This fall, Congress passed full-year funding for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, meaning that a funding lapse this week would not disrupt any operations for troops and veterans support programs.
But a host of other departments — including State, Homeland Security and Justice — would see possible furloughs and program closings if a funding deal isn’t reached.
Congress has not yet indicated whether it is aiming for a continuing resolution that would push the funding decision to a later date, or full FY19 appropriations for the agencies and general government funding still on the table.
Should the House and Senate choose to pass full appropriations, the legislation would decide the fate of a potential 1.9 percent pay raise for federal employees, as well as additional funding for the Technology Modernization Fund and improvements to oversight.gov.