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Another partial government shutdown: How we got here

By Roey Hadar

Gwen Ifill Fellow

Congressional negotiators are racing to reach a deal ahead of Friday’s deadline to avoid a second partial government shutdown.

After a 35-day shutdown spanning portions of December and January that furloughed 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government for three weeks while continuing negotiations on whether or not to fund the president’s proposal for a wall on the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

So how did we get to this point? Why is a second partial government shutdown an option and why did the first shutdown even occur?

The wall: a core campaign promise

In his June 2015 campaign announcement, Donald Trump pledged that if elected president, he would build a wall on the border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it.

“I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ―and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” Trump said. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

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Trump hit the campaign trail and repeatedly pledged to build the border wall, making it a cornerstone of his campaign platform. As the Republican nominee, Trump met with then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who said he told Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall.

Trump nevertheless continued to insist Mexico would pay for the wall on the campaign trail. After Trump’s victory and election as president, he pledged that he would build a border wall. Early in his presidency, Trump signed an executive order directing his administration to work toward building the wall. But most of the barriers that have been built have been replacements for existing barriers.

Wall funding battle: Government shuts down over border

In the first nearly two years of Trump’s presidency, he pushed for more funding to build barriers to secure the areas of the border that are open, but had not yet been able to get Congress to provide funding for the project.

After multiple congressional agreements to delay the question of funding the border wall, the issue came into focus in late 2018 in advance of the December 21st deadline to fund the government.

Ahead of the deadline, Trump called for $5 billion for border wall construction, a proposal that congressional Democratic leaders, including then-incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, opposed.

The president pledged to “take the mantle” for a partial government shutdown but it looked as though it could have been averted.

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With the deadline looming, the Senate approved a government funding deal on December 19th that included $1.6 billion in border security funding. Trump, however, indicated he would not sign the deal that the Senate had passed.

House and Senate leaders could not reach a deal with the president before the deadline lapsed, sending the United States into a partial federal government shutdown.

With Congress gone for the holidays, the shutdown lingered into January, but Congress and the president could not agree to a deal that satisfied both sides.

The president adjusted several key terms in the shutdown fight, including changing the proposed material for the wall from concrete to steel and saying that he never meant Mexico would “write out a check” for the wall and implied that Mexico could potentially indirectly pay for the wall through funds acquired from a renegotiated trade deal.

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After 35 days of a partial government shutdown that included two missed deadlines for paychecks for hundreds of thousands of federal employees and a delay of the president’s State of the Union address, the president announced from the White House Rose Garden that he had reached a short-term deal with Senate leaders from both parties to reopen the government for three weeks.

The deal Trump had reached did not include border wall funding. In the meantime, congressional leaders agreed to establish a conference committee with members from both parties and both the House and Senate to hash out a deal ahead of the new deadline of February 15th.

Conference committee negotiations: Is a second shutdown coming?

The conference committee, which consists mostly of members of Congress who are known for their skill in appropriating funding, is in negotiations to come up with a deal agreeable to both parties in Congress as well as the president.

Despite reportedly having unclear guidance from the president, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a lead negotiator of a possible border funding deal, expressed optimism last week about a possible deal.

Over the weekend, however, negotiations have reportedly stalled. A particular sticking point is over whether the deal will include a cap on the number of beds that can be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for people they have detained.

Democrats say this will put a limit on the number of people ICE detains and force them to focus on arresting criminals rather than families. Republicans staunchly oppose the proposal, saying that it would make it harder for ICE to detain criminals.

The conference committee likely needs to come to a final agreement in the first few days of this week to ensure Congress has enough time to pass the bill ahead of Friday’s deadline. It remains to be seen whether or not the president will sign it.