• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will shortly introduce a simple bill keeping the still-unfunded part of the U.S. government funded, at 2018 levels, through February 8. This Continuing Resolution will avert a partial government shutdown on Friday December 21. It will not include new wall-building money.
  • Scheduling the next budget/shutdown deadline for February 8 “would give the new Democratic House time to organize,” said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama).
  • “A stopgap bill would essentially push the government spending fight into the new year, when Democrats will assume control of the House and Mr. Trump’s negotiating leverage — already on the wane — will be considerably weakened,” The New York Times explains.
  • Next steps, according to Reuters: “A Senate Democratic aide said the appropriations bill…was expected to pass the Senate either on Wednesday or Thursday. The House of Representatives would then have to pass the bill and hope that Trump signs it into law.”
  • If a February 8 Continuing Resolution reaches the White House, President Trump “will take a look at that certainly,” senior presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway told reporters December 19.
  • The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations bill includes $5 billion for wall construction, as President Trump had demanded. The Senate Appropriations Committee includes $1.6 billion—the amount in the Trump administration’s original request, from February—for construction of fencing using existing designs, not a wall. Senate Democrats have since lowered to $1.3 billion the amount they say they’d be willing to fund. On December 18, Sen. McConnell suggested to Democrats a bill with $1.6 billion for fencing, plus an additional $1 billion for Trump to spend as he sees fit. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) rejected that as a “slush fund.”
  • On December 18 White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders gave a first strong indication of White House flexibility on the border-wall issue. She told Fox News that the White House would work with congressional leaders on a bill to get $1.6 billion for fencing, and would try to move money around within other government departments to cobble together additional wall funding. “There are certainly a number of different funding sources that we’ve identified that we can use, that we can couple with the money that would be given through congressional appropriations that would help us get to that $5 billion that the president needs in order to protect our border,” she said. During a White House briefing on the 18th, Sanders added that Trump has “asked every [federal] agency to look and see if they have money that can be used for that purpose.”
  • In a pair of December 19 tweets, President Trump reinforced the argument that other departments of the U.S. government could contribute to the wall. “The United States Military will build the Wall!” he declared. On the 18th, a Trump tweet backed off his insistence on a concrete wall design: “we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it….”
  • Democratic leaders have made clear that the president does not have the legal authority to move funds from other purposes into wall-building, without congressional approval. “If you’ve got that kind of cushion in your budget and you don’t need that money, use it to pay down the debt,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. “We gave him what he wanted. He ought to take it.”
  • Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Bloomberg it is unclear what might give President Trump authority to shift money around for wall-building without congressional approval. “I think we’d all have to talk to our lawyers and figure out what his authority is and whether it requires Congress to approve it.”
  • A USA Today/Suffolk poll released December 17 had bad news for the White House. It found respondents widely opposing a partial government shutdown for border wall money, by a 54 percent to 29 percent margin. 43 percent said that the president and the Republicans would bear the blame for a shutdown. 24 percent would blame the Democrats, and 30 percent would blame both sides equally.
  • On December 16, White House advisor Stephen Miller, an immigration hawk, told CBS’s Face the Nation that President Trump was willing to undergo a partial government shutdown in order to get border-wall funding. “We’re going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration,” he said.