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“Shutdown today”: Trump is going all in for the border wall

Trump’s wall whiplash is causing shutdown chaos right before Christmas.

President Donald Trump takes the stage to sign legislation in Washington, DC in December 2018.
President Donald Trump takes the stage to sign legislation in Washington, DC, in December 2018.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

President Donald Trump is going ride-or-die for his $5 billion for the border wall and seems to be practically celebrating the prospect of a government shutdown if he doesn’t get it.

Earlier in the week, he seemed to back down from his demand that a new deal to fund the government include $5 billion for a wall, but he reversed course on Thursday and has apparently decided he is happy to shut down the government after all if he doesn’t get his way.

Overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, Trump fired off a series of tweets celebrating the passage of a bill in the House of Representatives that includes $5 billion for wall funding. (The measure is almost certainly doomed in the Senate.)

He warned that if Democrats vote no, “there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” and encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use the so-called “nuclear option,” which would require the measure to pass by a simple 51-vote majority instead of the usual 60. It’s not clear that McConnell has the 51 votes in the Senate, either.

Trump also declared that he knows “tech better than anyone” and blamed Democrats for “trying to belittle the concept” of the wall. He told Republicans in the House that he was “very proud” of them “no matter what happens in the Senate.”

It’s been about 10 days of whiplash on what Trump plans to do with regard to the wall. In a meeting with Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer last week, Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government” and take the blame if he didn’t get the wall money. Earlier this week, he seemed poised to go on without it and downplayed the wall’s importance.

Now, after coming under criticism by some on the right, he’s back on the wall train again and making the case for why it’s necessary. On Thursday, he declared the wall was needed to stop the “reign of chaos, crime, cartels, and — believe it or not — coyotes.”

Trump has made this very difficult

As much as Trump would like to make this about the wall, this all seems to be, at its heart, about him and his indecision. In the Pelosi-Schumer meeting, he insisted on a wall and offered to take the “mantle” of a shutdown if that was the outcome. But then this week, he signaled he would sign a measure without wall money, and that passed the Senate. Some senators even left Washington for the holidays.

But then on Thursday, Trump backtracked, and House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that the president said he wouldn’t sign the Senate bill after all.

“So what we’re going to do is go back to the House and work with our members,” Ryan said. “We want to keep the government open, but we also want to see an agreement that protects the borders.”

And so the House voted on a separate bill, as Vox’s Li Zhou and Ella Nilsen explain:

The House voted on the new partial spending bill Thursday, after the Senate passed a clean spending bill late Wednesday night that contained no additional wall funding. The bill would fund 25 percent of the government (the remaining 75 percent has already been passed) until February 8, when Trump will have to contend with a new House Democratic majority less likely to cater to his whims.

Now we’re at a standstill: Trump seems unwilling to give up the wall, and House Republicans, at least, are prepared to back him. The Senate, meanwhile, seems like it’s a no-go.

In a Thursday night tweet, Trump singled out Pelosi, who at last week’s meeting challenged him and said he did not have the votes for the wall. “Today the House Republicans voted and won, 217-185,” he wrote. “Nancy does not have to apologize.”

Trump also tried to blame Democrats for the potential shutdown, saying if it happens, it’s on them. What he’s overlooking is that last week, he definitely took responsibility for it.

And regardless of who said what and when, it’s hard to deny that if the government does shut down, it will at least be in part because of Trump’s volatility when it comes to the wall. His last-minute flip, seemingly based on concern that it might anger his supporters and earn him criticism on television, has caused chaos just days before Christmas.

For now, Trump seems dead set on standing his ground, as do Democrats.

“The Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday night, “but he will not get his wall.”

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