White House cites 'options' for funding U.S. border wall

The White House said on Tuesday it was searching for ways to unilaterally fund the building of a controversial wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that Congress is balking at, possibly easing chances of a government shutdown this weekend.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters President Donald Trump has asked his Cabinet agencies to "look and see if they have money that can be used" to begin building the wall.
Previously, Trump had demanded that Congress approve $5 billion in new funds for the wall that he argues is needed to stop illegal immigrants and drugs from entering through the southwest border.
On Tuesday, Trump said it was too early to say whether a partial government shutdown will be averted by a Friday midnight deadline when existing funds for several agencies expire. "We'll see what happens," he told reporters.
But some Republican senators said they thought the president could be persuaded to sign a bill that does not fund his wall.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had proposed a new plan that would have had Congress approve $1 billion in unspecified money that Trump could use to advance his border security priorities.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "slush fund" that was promptly rejected.
Democrats, along with some Republicans, oppose the wall as a costly, ineffective border security tool.
Even some Republicans balked at the $1 billion fund. "I'm not sure I would insist on that," Senator Roger Wicker told reporters.
Now, lawmakers could move to a short, stop-gap bill that simply would continue current funding levels for several government agencies until early next year, when a new Congress would grapple with the budget impasse.
"It might be the only route forward considering the time constraints we face," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Schumer said Democrats would "very seriously consider" such a move.
Congress has been trying to approve around $450 billion in funds to keep a variety of federal agencies operating beyond Friday. Included is the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for border security.
Failure to agree to new appropriations by that deadline could leave about a quarter of the federal workforce without paychecks and some federal programs shuttered until the impasse is resolved.
Last week, in a heated exchange at the White House with Democratic leaders in Congress, Trump declared he would be"proud to shut down the government" if he did not get his demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump has demanded $5 billion as a down payment on construction of a wall, which was a key pledge of his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump had originally said Mexico would pay for the wall, but leaders of the United States' southern neighbor have repeatedly said it would not.
It was unclear whether any Cabinet heads would find money in their existing accounts to funnel to a wall, or whether they even had the authority to do so.
Earlier on Tuesday, in an interview with Fox News, Sanders said "absolutely," when asked whether the White House was exploring the use of funds, including from the Defense Department, for the project and whether that would be legal.
But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, was less certain.
In response to a reporter's question on whether Trump could order the Pentagon to shift some of its funds to wall construction, Shelby said: "I don't know about that." He added, however, that Trump "does have the power to defend the country" and "the power to protect the border."

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2018.
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