President Donald Trump is facing Democratic opposition as he makes a new push for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration, and says he believes estimates of the cost are vastly overblown.
Funding for the controversial barrier is at the forefront of White House discussions with lawmakers to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of the week.
Trump wants initial funding for the wall, a key campaign promise in his run to the White House, included in the budget to finance government spending to the end of September, but opposition Democrats remain adamantly against its construction.
The U.S. government runs out of operating funds at midnight Friday, giving the Republican-controlled Congress and minority Democrats just days to reach a compromise with the White House.
“The Democrats don’t want money from budget going to border wall despite the fact that it will stop drugs and very bad MS 13 gang members,” Trump said in a Twitter comment.
In a second remark, he said, “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” a claim numerous Mexican leaders have said will not happen.
With the exact design and scale of the wall yet to be determined, cost estimates have varied. An internal Department of Homeland Security report forecast the cost as high as $21.6 billion.
But in an interview with the Associated Press released Sunday, Trump said the price tag will not be nearly that high.
“I’m seeing numbers — $24 billion.I think I’ll do it for $10 billion or less.That’s not a lot of money relative to what we’re talking about,” Trump said, according to an AP transcript.
He further justified the cost as a “tremendously good investment” if it prevents even 1 percent of the current flow of drugs from crossing the border into the United States.
Trump also expressed confidence that whether the money or the wall is included in a budget deal or comes later, “One hundred percent it’s getting built.”
Reince Priebus, Trump’s White House chief of staff, predicted in an interview with NBC News that enough money will be approved “in the negotiation for us to either move forward with either the construction or the planning or enough to get going with the border wall.”
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Democrats do not support the wall. Republicans in the border states do not support the wall.”
“The Republicans have the votes in the House and the Senate and the White House to keep government open. The burden to keep it open is on the Republicans,” she said.
She added, “The wall is, in my view, immoral, expensive, unwise, and when the president says, ‘Well, I promised a wall during my campaign.’ I don’t think he said he was going to pass billions of dollars of cost of the wall on to the taxpayer.”
Priebus said the Trump administration expects “the priorities of the president to be reflected” in the funding for government operations.
“We expect a massive increase in military spending, we expect money for border security in this bill, and it ought to be because the president won overwhelmingly and everyone understood that the border wall was part of it,” he said.
Even with contentious negotiations ahead in the coming days, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said, “I don’t think anybody foresees or expects or wants a shutdown at the end of next week.”
Republican leaders in Congress have also downplayed the possibility of shutdown, which would be the government’s first since 2013, but a budget accord with Democratic lawmakers has yet to be reached.
Trump is heading into one of his administration’s most challenging weeks, with his 100th day in office on Saturday, the same day a shutdown could occur if a budget deal is not reached or temporary funding approved for a week or two while negotiations with lawmakers continue.
Trump is also attempting to revive a measure to repeal the national health care reforms that former President Barack Obama considered as his signature legislative achievement, a measure Republicans withdrew a month ago when they did not have enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass it. The legislation has since been altered somewhat but it is unclear if there is increased support for it.