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As Trump softens border wall money demand, will other barriers derail spending bill?

April 25, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
Numerous reports suggested overnight that President Trump is open to delaying a border wall down payment, leading Democrats on Capitol Hill to declare a kind of victory and see hope for avoiding a government shutdown. But even if the border wall issue drops away, other obstacles could still derail the spending bill. John Yang and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss those barriers.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the biggest obstacles to keeping the United States government funded beyond this Friday’s deadline may have been averted today.

Correspondent Lisa Desjardins starts us off.

LISA DESJARDINS: The president was at the Capitol this morning for a Holocaust remembrance event.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you going to insist on border funding?

LISA DESJARDINS: But he ignored shouted questions about a government funding bill, this after numerous reports that Mr. Trump told conservative journalists last night that he’s open to delaying a border wall down payment until September.

Democrats on Capitol Hill declared a kind of victory on the issue.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: Now, last night, we received a bit of good news, not just for Democrats, but for the country, that the president is easing off his demands for a border wall in the government funding bill.

LISA DESJARDINS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have insisted that border wall money would jeopardize the larger funding bill. And not all Republicans support it either.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Now, we Democrats have been opposed to including the wall in this bill since the beginning of the negotiations. There’s no plan to make Mexico pay for it, as the president promised it would. There’s no plan to resolve the eminent domain issues on the border, and the money is better used elsewhere.

LISA DESJARDINS: The president was quick to insist that whenever the funding comes, his plan to build a border barrier is alive and well. This morning, he tweeted: “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I changed my position on the wall.”

He followed up at a White House event this afternoon.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to have the wall built. I mean, I don’t what people are talking. I watch these shows and the pundits in the morning, they don’t know what they’re talking about. The wall gets built, 100 percent.

LISA DESJARDINS: Even if the border wall issue drops away, other obstacles could still derail the spending bill, for one, health benefits for coal miners. Thousands of miners will lose their health care this weekend if Congress doesn’t act.

Lawmakers on both sides, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, favor it, but have to find funding.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: I’m in favor of the permanent fix on miners health care. It’s my hope that that will be included in the final package.

LISA DESJARDINS: Other problems? Democratic sources say Republicans want the bill to give religious businesses more leeway to opt out of coverage for women’s reproductive health.

For now, the clock is ticking for Congress to pass a long-term spending bill before Saturday, President Trump’s 100th day in office.

And sources have now confirmed to us that Republicans’ latest offer to Democrats on the spending plan has dropped the border wall money altogether. Also, senators from both parties say they think it’s now likely there will have to be some kind of short-term deal for a few days. They’re not even sure that they could write and passes a larger bill by Friday.

All that means, Judy, is that probably we will be talking about this spending fight into next week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, going into next week. So, if the White House is dropping the demands for its funding for the border wall, Lisa, what are the remaining sticking points?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

Well, among those sticking points are women’s health, say Democrats. They say that Republicans, as they have brought up many times in the past few years, would like this bill to include more exemptions on religious grounds for funding contraception and other women’s health issues for employers.

Now, that goes along with the Hobby Lobby case and other things. Democrats firmly say that’s not something they will support. But some Republicans, Judy, say they’re not sure that they really will go to the mattress, so to speak, over that issue, that they might be wiling to take that issue down the road a ways.

What are the other problems? Honestly, Judy, it’s not quite clear. There’s a lot of frustration up here, and it seems there is just a lot of tying up of very loose ends.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, stay with us.

I’m going to bring in John Yang, who is at the White House reporting for us.

John, tell us. If the president has, in essence, backed down on the demand that they fund this border wall right now, what’s the rationale? We hear the president saying when the cameras with were him earlier today, it’s still a priority, it’s going to happen soon, but he’s dropped it as a demand.

JOHN YANG: He dropped it as a demand because they realize the — or acknowledge the political reality that they weren’t going to get it without a big fight, without jeopardizing or threatening a government shutdown.

They’re putting it off. It’s still their top priority. They still — Mr. Trump says he will still build this wall in his first term, and they’re putting off this fight until September — the next fiscal year, the spending year that begins in October. Remember, this money is only until the end of September. They’re going to work to the next spending year to get money. They say they have got enough money to do planning, but there is no indication of why they think this fight will be any easier in fiscal year 2018.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, back to you.

If the White House has clearly moved its position in the last 24 hours, are Republicans and Democrats now looking at the president as somebody who is a whole lot easier to deal with than they thought?

LISA DESJARDINS: It depends on who you speak with.

I think Democrats will tell you, those that speak to you, you know, off microphone, will say they think that the Democrats — the Republicans, the White House completely misplayed this. They think this has added to enormous leverage that they didn’t feel that they had here at the Capitol until this week.

You talk to Republicans, some of them will say, again, off microphone, that they’re relieved that this has come off the table. There is enormous skepticism and some all-out problems with the idea of a border wall, especially when it really hasn’t been clearly defined in their eyes.

So there’s mainly relief, I would say, at the U.S. Capitol, but I do think there are real questions about the strength of this president in negotiating with Congress and perhaps making some strong-arm moves that have backfired against him, at least this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, John, this is all coming as the president approaches his 100-day mark. Is there concern at the White House that the president is not seen as a strong leader?

JOHN YANG: Well, I tell you, Judy, you know, the president himself says this is an artificial deadline. He calls it ridiculous.

And Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, echoes that. But at the same time, the communications office is really working hard on this. We have a series of briefings this week, a number of executive orders being signed, Cabinet secretaries coming into the Briefing Room to talk to reporters, to talk about what they have done, a big, splashy new Web page on the WhiteHouse.gov Web site talking about what they have done in this first 100 days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We’re watching it all closely. And I know the two of you are.

John Yang, Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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