House moves to vote on spending bill with border wall funds, Trump defends risking shutdown

“Any measure that funds the government has to include border security — not for political purposes, but for our country,” Trump said during a White House signing ceremony Thursday.
Image: Paul Ryan
Speaking to reporters outside the White House after a 90-minute meeting he described as "productive," Ryan said that Trump would not sign the continuing resolution.Andrew Harnik / AP

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By Rebecca Shabad, Kasie Hunt, Alex Moe and Garrett Haake

WASHINGTON — All eyes are on the House of Representatives as Republicans ready a vote on a short-term spending bill that includes $5 billion for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall.

Hours earlier, Trump defended his decision to risk a government shutdown over the demand.

"Any measure that funds the government has to include border security — not for political purposes, but for our country," Trump said during a White House signing ceremony for the farm bill.

He said the wall is "also called steel slats, so that I give them a little bit of an out — steel slats. ...We don’t use the word 'wall' necessarily."

"We'll be working on that, Mitch and Paul and Kevin and everyone, hopefully that will all come together," he added.

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The odds of a shutdown rose sharply Thursday after an emergency meeting at the White House with top House GOP leaders and several conservatives. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said that Trump had told lawmakers he would not sign the short-term spending bill to fund the government that the Senate passed the night before, and later, House Republicans reintroduced a measure that would extend current government funding through Feb. 8, provide $5 billion for a border wall and about $8 billion in disaster aid.

Early Thursday evening, House lawmakers advanced that legislation during a procedural vote to a final floor vote that was expected later in the night. Lawmakers who voted to advance the bill could always oppose the bill during the final vote.

“This is a very sad day for our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in remarks to reporters alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., outside of the House chamber ahead of a final vote on the new measure.

"President Trump is plunging the country into chaos," said Schumer. "The stock market's down 500 points. General Mattis is stepping down and we know he has real disagreements with Syria and on the wall and now President Trump is now throwing a temper tantrum and creating a Trump shutdown of the government.”

If the bill passes, it would have to go back to the Senate for another vote where it would most certainly be blocked by Senate Democrats whose votes Republicans need to pass appropriations bills in the upper chamber.

If the measure in the House fails, on the other hand, it would put Republicans back at square one where the only viable options would be a so-called "clean" stopgap bill that excludes wall funding, or a shutdown.

It was unclear whether the measure with $5 billion in border wall funding would pass the House as scores of lawmakers from both parties — many of whom are retiring from Congress — have skipped votes over the last day, and may not be returning to Washington.

McCarthy, the next minority leader, told NBC News he still did not think the government would shut down.

Meanwhile, during a mid-afternoon votes series, Pelosi attempted to force a vote on a spending bill to extend current funding and prevent a shutdown, but the effort failed on the floor.

As Thursday began, the House had been expected to vote on the bill to keep the government funded through Feb. 8 and prevent a shutdown on Saturday. But there was confusion over the official White House position on the short-term government funding measure.

The Senate passed the continuing resolution, which excludes funding for the president’s border wall, late Wednesday after Senate Republicans introduced the measure earlier in the day and Democratic leaders said they would sign on.

Neither the president nor any White House officials had explicitly said publicly that he would sign the bill.

Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander contributed.