Power Struggle in US Congress over Trump’s Wall

The wall along the Mexican border that Donald Trump wants was at the heart of Tuesday’s budget negotiations in Congress, where the Democratic opposition absolutely refused to vote for a dollar toward its construction, and the wall is on the brink of triggering a power struggle, according to Congressional leaders.

Congress is required to adopt a budget before midnight on Friday, April 28.

This is the date after which the federal state is no longer funded. In the United States, agencies cannot legally function if Congress, as custodian of the purse strings, has not approved their operating funds.

Last year, when Barack Obama was still president, legislators set this interim deadline instead of funding the entire 2017 fiscal year, until Sept. 30, in order to integrate the current Trump priorities over the course of the year.

Among these priorities is the wall that Trump promised to build on the border with Mexico.

The Republican president asked for $1.4 billion to launch construction, but the Democratic opposition made a “casus belli”* out of it. The Democrats will obstruct, as they have the power to do, if funds are included in the next budget, at the risk of triggering a “shutdown” – government paralysis – as in October 2013, when hundreds of thousands of public servants were forced to stay home for two weeks (except for essential security services and the like).

Power Struggle

A tussle seen a thousand times in Congress has therefore started again … but the Democrats thought Tuesday they had made the Republican president fold, already weakened by the failure of his plan to repeal former President Obama’s health care law in March.

The two Democratic congressional leaders issued press releases on Monday evening welcoming the fact that Trump had run out of steam. “[I]t is a good thing for the country that Trump is taking the wall budget off the table in these negotiations,” declared Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The same holds true of Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

But the White House did not officially confirm the Republican leader’s supposed reversal.

In fact, the Republican majority and the Democratic opposition have been negotiating for weeks and the discussions have been constructive, the Republican leaders having agreed to postpone the question of financing the Mexican wall.

Recently, Trump demanded that his congressional allies release funds for his wall before reaching the symbolic 100th day of his term on Saturday. His director of the Office of Management and Budget had even hinted at a kind of blackmail last week with a proposition to Democrats to finance Obamacare in exchange for the wall.

Emphasizing the pressure involved, the Republican president tweeted Monday that the wall was “a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!”

In the Senate, support of a qualified majority of elected representatives, and therefore of a part of the Democratic group, is indispensable under the rules of operation of the institution, which gives the opposition the upper hand.

Shutdown of the Federal Government?

If no agreement is reached before Friday evening, the federal government will shut down. The leaders of Congress have promised that this will not happen in any case. “We feel very confident that they understand the president’s priorities and that we’ll come to an agreement by the end of Friday,” Sean Spicer, the spokesperson for the president, stated Monday.

The American president knows he would have been isolated in the event of a clash, his camp still traumatized by the 2013 shutdown that Americans blamed on the Republican Party.

When a party controls both the legislative and executive branches, it is difficult to blame the minority party for governmental dysfunction.

“What I certainly don’t think we need to be doing is flirting with shutting down the government,” says Dan Sullivan, Republican senator.

Editor’s note: “Casus belli” is the Latin phrase for an event provoking war or used as a pretext for making war.

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