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Partial Government Shutdown Looms, As Border Wall Funding Remains Sticking Point


Parts of the federal government could shut down just before Christmas if the White House and Democrats are unable to reach a deal over funding. The sticking point has been President Trump's demand for $5 billion - that's billion with a B - $5 billion towards his long-sought-after Border Wall. White House adviser Stephen Miller, who is considered a hard-liner on illegal immigration, reiterated over the weekend that Trump would shut down the government to get that wall money. Here's Miller on CBS' "Face The Nation."


STEPHEN MILLER: We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall, to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that means a shutdown.

MILLER: This is a very - if it comes to it, absolutely.

KELLY: But earlier today another White House adviser, Mercedes Schlapp, had a slightly different message. She told reporters the White House does not want to get to a point where there's a shutdown. And she described Trump's $5 billion ask differently.


MERCEDES SCHLAPP: We're going to find ways to get to that $5 billion and make sure that we increase funding not only for the physical barrier but also for technology and for personnel.

KELLY: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House to decipher all of this. And, Mara, which is it? Is the president going to shut down the government to get his wall money or not?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, despite Trump's defiant tweets, he tweeted again recently that you shouldn't listen to Democrats who say you can have border security without a wall. That sounds like exactly what the White House is trying to negotiate. They have until Friday midnight to reach a deal. It looks like they're trying to find a way to get President Trump out of the box he put himself in during that meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer when he said he would proudly take responsibility if there was a shutdown and he would shut down the government if he didn't get $5 billion for the border wall.

But if you listen to what Mercedes Schlapp is saying, it sounds like there are a lot of different ways to get money for border security. She did not mention the word wall. She talked about technology, personnel. That could mean drones, fencing. So it sounds like the White House wants to find a way to satisfy the president perhaps by using the amount of money Democrats have offered plus other sources of funding - maybe the military, the way they strung that concertina wire along the border during the caravan crisis.

KELLY: I mean, what it sounds like, just to put it bluntly, is the White House is maybe trying to figure out a way that the president can declare victory even if he doesn't get that $5 billion.

LIASSON: Absolutely. Don't forget. In that meeting with Chuck and Nancy, Donald Trump said he already had tremendous success decreasing illegal immigration at different parts of the border by using the money that he's already been given, which of course is much less than $5 billion. So it's - what I am hearing is the White House does not want to shut down. They do not want to punt this into January. And it sounds like the president is just as eager to get home to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas as members of Congress are to get home to their places.

KELLY: He is still slated to leave Friday. Is that right?

LIASSON: That's right.

KELLY: OK, so he can't do this by himself. He needs Democrats. Are Democrats likely to go along with this evolving White House plan?

LIASSON: That's the big question. Senator Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, said that he had not heard from the White House. And here's what he said on the floor of the Senate just moments ago.


CHUCK SCHUMER: Nor have we even heard from our Republican colleagues in the Senate or House about what they might support to avoid a shutdown. Senate Republican leadership has no idea what President Trump wants. Neither does House Republican leadership.

LIASSON: So Democrats have to be on board with this because in the Senate, you need 10 Democratic votes to pass this. And of course our reporters are saying there might not even be the votes for this in the House because so many Republicans have just gone home. They've lost their seats. They've vacated their office for incoming Democratic freshmen. And they're just not around.

KELLY: Mara, in the minute or so that we've got less - left, let me switch gears and ask about another story, this Texas judge who has ruled that Obamacare is unconstitutional. Setting aside the legal questions 'cause I gather that decision is expected to be appealed, what are the political questions it raises for you?

LIASSON: Well, that's true. Nothing changes on a practical level right now. It will be adjudicated further. But the president has been tweeting triumphantly about this. But it's also true that Republicans have not been able to coalesce around a replacement for Obamacare. They tried and failed pretty spectacularly. Then they just litigated again in the fourth election where Obamacare has been an issue. And it turns out that Obamacare is getting more and more popular, especially the parts of it like banning insurers from rejecting you if you have a pre-existing condition, allowing your kids to stay on your plan till 26, expanding Medicaid. So I think this is a situation for Republicans of beware of what you wish for. You just might get it.

KELLY: NPR's Mara Liasson reporting there from the White House. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.