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Trump to Congress: Fund the Wall or I’ll Shut the Government

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President Donald Trump holds a rally in Phoenix, Aug. 22, 2017. - TOM BRENNER/THE NEW YORK TIMES
  • Tom Brenner/The New York Times
  • President Donald Trump holds a rally in Phoenix, Aug. 22, 2017.

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
© 2017 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump issued an extraordinary challenge to his own party late Tuesday, threatening to shut down the government in a matter of weeks if Congress did not fund a wall on the southern border that was a signature promise of his campaign for the White House.

Trump followed up on that threat on Wednesday by going after a key Republican senator on Twitter who has been skeptical of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is also one of two Republican senators up for re-election next year in a swing state, and the president has put his finger on the scale toward a primary challenger, Kelli Ward.

On Tuesday night, he told a rowdy crowd in Phoenix, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Tuesday’s admonition sharpened a suggestion that Trump made early this year, in the wake of a budget agreement he grudgingly accepted even though it omitted money for the wall, that the U.S. needed “a good ‘shutdown'” this fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending.

A shutdown of a government under complete control of one party would likely be a first.

The government will run out of money Oct. 1. But in this conflict, the president may have handed Senate Democrats the whip. They can now filibuster any spending bill that contains wall funding, forcing Republicans to strip out the money and challenge Trump to veto it.

“If the president pursues this path, against the wishes of both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the majority of the American people, he will be heading towards a government shutdown which nobody will like and which won’t accomplish anything,” warned Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

White House aides urged the president not to mention Flake by name at the rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. So he did so on Twitter: “I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!”

He followed that message with another challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to change Senate rules that make most legislation subject to a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.