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Despite Warnings From GOP Leaders, Trump Continues Shutdown Threats

President Trump departs the White House on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., headed to a rally in Florida.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
President Trump departs the White House on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., headed to a rally in Florida.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

Congressional Republicans keep trying to downplay the possibility of a government shutdown this fall, just weeks ahead of midterm elections, even as President Trump returns again and again to that very scenario.

"I don't care what the political ramifications are," Trump tweetedon Tuesday, "our immigration and border security have been a complete and total disaster for decades, and there is no way that the Democrats will allow it to be fixed without a Government Shutdown ..."

Trump has repeatedly said this week that he would force the government to shut down if Democrats do not agree to significant increases in border spending, including money to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico, along with changes to the legal immigration system.

He renewed the threat Wednesday in an interview with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. Trump said a shutdown could happen before or after the election in November--whatever it takes to get funding for the border wall.

"The shutdown could also take place after the election," Trump said. "I happen to think it's a great political thing, because people want border security."

But Republicans on Capitol Hill fear that a government shutdown weeks before Election Day could cost them dearly with voters in what's already expected to be a rough midterm for the governing party, a view the White House rejects.

"There's much more at stake here than political fallout. This is about protecting a country and protecting a nation," said deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley to reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump traveled to Florida.

Trump's threats intrude on what congressional Democrats and Republicans say have been uncharacteristically positive negotiations over the annual spending bills.

The Senate has passed seven of the 12 regular appropriations bills so far this year. The tally includes a four bills that were passed in a single passage Wednesday in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 92-6.

Trump's aggressive comments highlight a continuing disconnect over policy between Trump and the congressional GOP. In recent months, they have clashed over tariffs, Russian interference in U.S. elections, North Korea and now spending.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that the parties are working together to pass spending bills ahead of a fiscal-year-end deadline on Sept. 30. If successful, it would be the first time the two sides reached a peaceful spending solution ahead of that deadline since Trump took office.

"Most Republicans, including myself, agree that we ought to fund the wall and we're going to try to achieve that in the course of a regular order process," McConnell said. "It's all unfolding before you, and hope we don't get to that position at the end of the fiscal year."

It is highly unlikely that Congress can pass funding for Trump's wall as part of that regular process. Democrats have vowed to block any new wall funding in the Senate, where Republicans don't have enough votes to pass a spending bill on their own.

Republican leaders acknowledge that reality and are working closely with Democrats to pass spending bills quickly to avoid a confrontation with Trump ahead of the November midterm elections.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday that he believes Republicans are negotiating in good faith over spending.

"Leader McConnell and I have had almost daily conversations about the appropriations bill and we're making very good progress," Schumer said. "The fly in the ointment here, of course, is the president, who keeps brandishing the floor and threatening."

Schumer said he hopes Trump will stay out of the talks and leave it to Congress to do their constitutional job of funding the government.

"Whenever he gets involved he seems to mess it up," Schumer said.

Most Republicans say they take Trump's threat seriously but are working to persuade him to change his mind. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., one of McConnell's top deputies, told reporters he expects Trump's own advisers are doing the same.

"Certainly, 30 days before an election, having the prospect of a government shutdown out there is not something I certainly would look forward to have happening," Thune said. "I think he speaks his mind and this is, I suppose you would say, the current state of his thinking."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, used Trump's own favored medium, Twitter to push back, writing, "President Trump has privately agreed to put off a potential shutdown or any fight over border wall funding until after midterm elections," and linking to a Wall Street Journal article.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he takes the threat seriously, but it won't stop him from trying to pass spending bills in the coming weeks.

"It is mind-boggling to me that anybody would say well, we're going to shut down the government if I don't get my way," Shelby said. "The political ramifications of a shutdown as everybody here knows is not good for either party, it's not good for America. It's something we've tried before, both parties, it doesn't work. It's not going to work in the future."

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.