President Trump said Wednesday that a government shutdown “could happen,” blaming congressional Democrats’ stance on immigration even as Republican allies worked to keep federal operations humming for another two weeks.
Mr. Trump blasted Democrats just 24 hours before he meets with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and GOP leaders on year-end spending and a series of other priorities.
“Chuck and Nancy” dropped out of a previous meeting, after Mr. Trump said their demands made it impossible to land a deal.
“The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday, reprising his attacks. “They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”
Congress is scrambling to pass the stopgap funding bill and avoid a partial federal shutdown on Saturday, when money runs out, before settling on a longer-term deal around Christmas.
House leaders plan to hold a floor vote Thursday on a bill that keeps the government funded through Dec. 22, though it’s unclear if they’ll be forced to rely on Democratic votes to pass it.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus initially balked at the two-week bill, fearing it would get entangled with work on tax reform and lead to rash decisions before Christmas.
Caucus members said they were making “good progress” in talks with GOP leaders — realizing a messy fight could knock tax reform off track — though stopped short of committing their support for the spending bill late Wednesday.
“No one wants a shutdown, including Freedom Caucus members,” the group’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said. “I fully expect if there is a CR through the 22nd that is put on the floor tomorrow, that it will pass.”
Even if Congress staves off a weekend shutdown, thorny questions remain.
Several Senate Democrats have threatened to vote against a year-end spending package that doesn’t protect 800,000 immigrant “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Mr. Trump has rescinded the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty ordered by then-President Barack Obama, leaving Congress until March to act.
Republicans say they want a fix for Dreamers, too, but they’re eyeing trade-offs and say a final deal can wait for the new year.
“They are looking at shutting down,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats.
The White House modulated its tone later on, saying Mr. Trump looks forward to regrouping with Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi.
“The administration hopes to find fiscally responsible ways to avoid a government shutdown, address the looming sequester and devastating cuts facing our military, as well as fund important domestic priorities that will encourage economic prosperity and keep Americans safe,” said Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters. “The American people deserve leaders who put their differences aside, and this is an important step in achieving our shared goal of putting America first.”
Some House Republicans want to pass a year-end spending bill that provides a full year of defense spending but keeps domestic priorities at present levels through a “continuing resolution.”
Yet Democrats, whose votes are needed to get any spending bill to 60 votes in the Senate, would object to that approach.
Democrats frequently demand spending hikes for domestic initiatives alongside increases for the military, yet the Freedom Caucus is trying to break that cycle.
“Republicans want to fund the military. Democrats know that, and so what they do is they hold that hostage in trying to get things that are not in the best interest of the American taxpayer,” Mr. Meadows said.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, continued to use immigration as a wedge issue ahead of further talks, noting recent developments on border security.
The president said the Supreme Court this week upheld his latest version of a travel ban for immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries.
“That was a tremendous victory for our country — not a victory for me, it was a victory for our country,” the president said. “So the Democrats maybe will want to shutdown the country because they want people flowing into our country. I want people coming into our country, but I want to vet those people. We don’t want to have radical Islamic terrorism in this country, and we don’t want to have crime in this country.”
Noting the acquittal on murder charges of the illegal immigrant who killed Kate Steinle, Mr. Trump said, “You look at what just happened in San Francisco — that was a disgrace.”
A federal grand jury has indicted the illegal immigrant who was acquitted last week of murder and manslaughter charges in the case, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, on new immigration and gun charges. Mr. Trump called the development “a great thing.”
“They’re going to take that at least to the next step,” he said.