Trump is pushing for 'steel slats or a wall' as he meets with GOP House members

  • The Senate passes a bill to keep the government running into February.
  • President Donald Trump does not indicate whether he will sign it, which complicates the House's effort to approve the legislation.
  • Trump and his conservative allies want funding for the president's proposed border wall in the year-end spending plan.
  • Just last week, Trump said he'd be "proud" to shut down the government over border security funding,

Fears about a partial government shutdown grew Thursday as President Donald Trump left the door open to vetoing a short-term spending bill expected to pass Congress.

The Senate has approved a bill to keep the government running through Feb. 8. But it was unclear Thursday morning whether the House would pass it — or if Trump would sign it — ahead of the midnight Friday deadline to keep the government running. Some GOP members pushed for changes to the legislation, such as Trump's desired $5 billion to fund his border wall or more disaster relief money.

The president met with House Republicans at noon Thursday as lawmakers scrambled to find a way forward, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. At least House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and conservative stalwarts Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows were set to attend, according to NBC News.

Trump "does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall," Sanders said. Trump started to make "steel slats" synonymous with a "wall" Thursday morning, though he has previously promised his supporters to "build a wall" and make Mexico pay for it.

In a vague tweet Thursday morning, Trump expressed frustration with Congress. He said he was "promised the Wall and Border Security" when he "begrudgingly signed" an omnibus spending bill earlier this year.

"It didn't happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries - but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!" Trump wrote, while continuing not to divulge whether he would sign the spending measure. The president also threatened to veto the omnibus bill earlier this year before signing it.

President Donald J. Trump in the Roosevelt Room at White House on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
President Donald J. Trump in the Roosevelt Room at White House on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.

The legislation the Senate passed would fund seven government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, at their current levels through Feb. 8. Trump has lamented a lack of money for his proposed border wall, a key campaign promise that tripped up talks in Congress.

The Senate unanimously approved the legislation Wednesday. But a House GOP conference meeting Thursday morning sparked confusion about whether the chamber could pass it amid simmering opposition within the caucus. House Republicans appeared to wait for a signal of Trump's support before voting for the spending measure.

The House GOP caucus huddled Thursday morning, and leaders reportedly could not assure members that Trump would sign the bill. The leaders then canceled a news conference after Ryan took an emergency call from the president. Republicans claimed they delayed the event due to the meeting running long and votes taking place on the floor, according to NBC News.

Honduran caravan members look through through the fence at the US-Mexico border wall at Friendship park in San Ysidro, California on November 18, 2018. 
Sandy Huffaker | AFP | Getty Images
Honduran caravan members look through through the fence at the US-Mexico border wall at Friendship park in San Ysidro, California on November 18, 2018. 

McCarthy told members that they would hold another conference meeting later Thursday to discuss funding, NBC reported. It is unclear when that meeting would take place.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats will support the short-term funding bill. At a news conference Thursday, Pelosi said Republicans "are in a state of disarray" or a "meltdown." She reiterated that wall funding "is a nonstarter" for her party in a spending bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also said House Republicans can "pound their fists on the table" all they want, but it's "not going to get a wall."

If the House passes the bill and Trump signs it, lawmakers will dodge the third government shutdown this year and delay the ongoing immigration debate until Democrats hold a House majority next year. But Trump — who said last week that he would be "proud" to shut down the government over border security — has left the door open to vetoing the bill. The hard-line GOP House Freedom Caucus and Trump's allies in the conservative media have urged him not to sign legislation that does not fund the barrier.

Lawmakers have already funded five departments, including the Pentagon and Health and Human Services. The seven unfunded agencies make up about a quarter of the government.

In separate tweets Thursday morning, the president threatened retribution for Democrats for not funding the wall and appeared to play down the need for the barrier. Democrats "know Steel Slats (Wall) are necessary for Border Security" but "are putting politics over Country," he contended. He threatened not to "sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure, unless it has perfect Border Security."

But the president seemed to contradict himself in his next tweet. He suggested he did not need the barrier for strong border security. Trump said U.S. agencies have done a "great job" at the border.

"Border is tight. Fake News silent!" he wrote.

Trump sought $5 billion for the wall in the spending package. Pelosi and Schumer flatly denied his request in a heated Oval Office discussion last week.

The conservative Freedom Caucus, staunch supporters of the president and his immigration agenda, pushed for the $5 billion in wall money on the House floor Wednesday night. They also called for an end to the so-called catch and release immigration policy. The caucus' members reportedly plan to oppose the spending bill, which means Republicans would need Democratic support to pass it.

Trump has started to justify his failure to secure wall funding in the spending bill. As a candidate, he repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for the barrier. On Wednesday, he claimed America's southern neighbor will fund the wall through his revised North American trade agreement, an assertion the White House has struggled to explain.

He also contended that the U.S. military will construct the wall — a process that could also require congressional appropriations.

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