WASHINGTON: Democrats in the House of Representatives are planning a vote on Thursday on a funding package to end the 10-day-old partial U.S. government shutdown without providing the US$5 billion President Donald Trump has demanded for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The two-part package will include a bill to keep funding for the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Feb. 8 with US$1.3 billion (1.02 billion pounds) for border security, as well as measures to fund other shuttered agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year, Democratic congressional aides said on Monday.
Democrats formally take control of the House from Trump's fellow Republicans on Thursday after winning a majority of seats in November's mid-term congressional elections. If approved in the House, the government funding package would go next to the Republican-led Senate, where its prospects appeared uncertain.
The Democratic legislation will mark the first major battle pitting the incoming Democratic House majority led by Nancy Pelosi against Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said his chamber will not consider any legislation that Trump would not support.
Democrats oppose Trump's demand for wall funding, with Pelosi calling the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive.
Democrats expect their two-pronged funding approach could put Trump and his Republican allies in a tough position. If they reject funding bills for departments unconnected to border security, Republicans could be seen to hold those agencies and their roughly 800,000 workers hostage to Trump's wall demand.
The partial government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, was precipitated by Trump's demand, under pressure from conservative commentators, that lawmakers approve US$5 billion to help fund a wall that was a key part of his 2016 presidential campaign, though he said at the time that it would be paid for by Mexico.
Trump has called the wall crucial to combating illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The Senate on Dec. 21 failed to muster the votes needed to pass Republican-backed House legislation that included Trump's wall funding.
A senior Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Senate Democrats support the House legislative plan and that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has been in constant contact with Pelosi about it.
The homeland security piece of the Democratic package is based on a measure that has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Some analysts were optimistic the shutdown could be near an end.
"We attach high (75 percent) odds on the White House and new Congress resolving differences to the government shutdown next week," said Charles Gabriel, an analyst at policy research and strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.
'NOT A WALL'
Trump on Twitter criticized Democratic opposition to the wall project, which carries a total estimated price tag of US$23 billion. He also seemed to respond to comments about the administration's position on the wall made by outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published on Sunday, Kelly said, "To be honest, it's not a wall."
"The president still says 'wall' - oftentimes frankly he'll say 'barrier' or 'fencing,' now he's tended towards steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it," Kelly added.
Trump said in a Twitter post that border security cannot exist "without a strong and powerful Wall."
"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media," Trump wrote. "Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!"
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Trump ally on some issues, met with the president on Sunday and told reporters afterward he was optimistic that Republicans, Democrats and Trump could reach a deal to end the shutdown that includes wall funding and legal status for some illegal immigrants.
But Graham said there would never be a government spending deal that did not include money for a wall or other physical barriers on the southern border.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Will Dunham and David Gregorio)