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Trump’s border threats could make for an ugly September

Updated: 
August 30, 2017 - 12:05am

September was already shaping up to be a harrowing month in Washington, D.C. But President Donald Trump’s threat Tuesday to close down the government if Congress fails to fund his border wall makes it a potential nightmare.

Congress, on recess until Sept. 5, must raise the U.S. debt ceiling before Sept. 29. By the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, Congress must also either pass a budget (unlikely) or a temporary spending measure to keep the government operating into the new fiscal year.

Then there’s the leftover matter of replacing or fixing the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and some members of Congress still haven’t given up on. To top it off, GOP leaders hope to begin talks on a tax-cut package that hasn’t been finalized.

Now the president says that unless there’s funding for the border wall in whatever budget measure Congress passes, he won’t sign it. The shutdown would begin Monday, Oct. 2.

There have been 18 “funding gaps,” as Congress calls them, since the modern budgeting process began in 1976. Most of them were for two or three days; monthlong shutdowns in 1996 and 2013 saw up to 800,000 federal employees furloughed, closed national parks and museums and delayed payments of some military and veterans benefits. The public was not happy.

Trump is betting that there’s enough popular support for the border wall that he won’t be blamed for a shutdown if it occurs. A friendly crowd in Phoenix Tuesday cheered when he said, “Build that wall,” adding, “Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

But outside of Trump rallies, polls show significant majorities of Americans oppose spending money on a border wall. Mexican officials, in no uncertain terms, have rejected Trump’s absurd demand that Mexico pay for it.

The immediate issue is $1.6 billion in border wall funding that House leaders sneaked into their version of a Pentagon spending bill in July. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with whom Trump is feuding, won’t commit to including that $1.6 billion in the Senate version. If McConnell can hold all 52 GOP senators — including others with whom Trump is feuding — he’ll still needs at least eight Democrat votes for the bill to pass.

The larger issue is Trump’s government-by-bombast approach to legislative process. The McClatchy news service reports that the White House may use the 800,000 “dreamers” — young adult and teen immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — as hostages. If Democrats don’t give Trump what he wants for border security, the dreamers will be rounded up and sent packing.

August hasn’t exactly been a picnic, but September could get really ugly.

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