Trump’s Battle to Fund His Wall Squeezed by Deadline for Debt Limit

  • Tough stand on border seen as crucial to keeping base intact
  • President committed to getting debt limit raised, aide says

Why Trump Is Calling Out GOP Leaders on Debt Ceiling

President Donald Trump is spoiling for a fight with Congress over funding a border wall with Mexico, but he’ll have a hard time waging that battle because of a looming deadline to avert a U.S. debt default.

Some of the president’s advisers consider a tough stand on border wall funding crucial to Trump’s credibility and even political survival, two White House officials said. Before his departure last week as Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, urged the president to go through with a government shutdown if necessary to force Congress into providing money for the wall, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.

As allies in corporate America and the Republican establishment pull away from Trump and he declines in national polls, the president is increasingly dependent on a core following for whom his campaign vow of a border wall remains a visceral issue. The wall drama plays out as his decision to pour more troops and resources into Afghanistan risks disappointing supporters drawn by his pledges to cut U.S. military involvement abroad.

Failure to make progress on the border wall -- or at least go to the mat on the issue -- may fracture what has been a solid political base for the president, added a Republican consultant who closely follows that group of voters. Those loyal supporters haven’t shown signs of wavering amid the political backlash over Trump’s remarks on the violence in Virginia, but they need to see results on his promise of change if they are to stick with him, according to consultant, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Q&A: How Trump’s Wall Could Shut Down the Government

At a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, Trump drew the line in the sand Bannon had urged.

“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Trump pledged. “One way or the other, we’re going to get that wall.”

In public, Trump has stopped repeating his vow to make Mexico pay for the wall -- which Republican lawmakers have estimated would require $12 billion to $15 billion -- though his aides insist that’s still the president’s intention. The House included $1.6 billion to start construction of a section of wall in a package of spending bills for the next fiscal year that passed in the House in July, but the Senate hasn’t acted on it yet.

Follow the Trump Administration’s Every Move

‪Asked Thursday if Trump would sign a spending measure that doesn’t include wall funding, press secretary Sarah Sanders was firm: “He won on talking about building the wall and he’s going to make sure that it gets done.”

Yet Sanders also repeated assurances that Trump is determined to avert a U.S. default, saying of the legal debt limit the U.S. is about to hit that the president is “still committed to making sure it gets raised.”

Getting Crowded

The dilemma for Trump is that in a crowded legislative calendar Congress needs to pass a spending measure to keep the government open after Sept. 30 at the same time it’s facing a deadline to raise the nation’s debt limit. While Republican leaders have yet to reveal a plan for how they’ll proceed, a likely scenario is to package the two measures together to get them to the president’s desk.

If the two issues are combined, that would compound the economic consequences of a stand-off. While federal government shutdowns have often provoked anger from voters, the U.S. has experienced a number of them with little long-term damage. But the country hasn’t ever defaulted on its debt, a step that could rattle financial markets and damage the U.S. reputation for creditworthiness

Trump fulminated against Republican congressional leaders over the debt-limit “mess” in a Twitter posting Thursday morning, saying they ignored advice he gave to include the debt-ceiling increase in a popular veterans bill. The tweet spurred a spike in investor concern that Congress and the White House may not act in time.

After his tweets, the rate on Treasury bills maturing Oct. 12 jumped by as much as 5 basis points, the largest intraday move since March.

Rates on those bills -- which mature around the time the Treasury would be expected to run out of money unless there’s a debt limit increase -- began rising Wednesday, one day after Trump threatened to shut down the government over getting money for the wall.

Back in July, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders did discuss using a veterans bill as a vehicle to raise the debt ceiling. But conservatives in the House are demanding that steep spending cuts accompany any debt bill. Lawmakers are still trying to figure out whether there is a debt bill that can pass with only Republican votes in the House, or whether they will need to move a bill with bipartisan support that doesn’t contain any spending cuts.

Democrats are almost uniformly opposed to paying for the border wall and their leaders are putting the onus for raising the government’s borrowing authority on Republicans, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“Republicans need to stop the chaos and sort themselves out in a hurry,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Thursday.

Ryan, who answered questions Thursday from employees at Boeing Co. in Everett, Washington, said the debt ceiling will be raised.

“I’m not worried that it isn’t going to get done because it’s going to get done,” he said.

Like Ryan, Republican Representative Charlie Dent said lawmakers also don’t want a government shutdown in October. Dent, who’s from the swing state of Pennsylvania, said bringing the government to a halt over $1.6 billion in wall money would be a “fool’s errand” and “political malpractice.”

— With assistance by Toluse Olorunnipa, Erik Wasson, and Alex Harris

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