Amid looming threat of a U.S. government shutdown, President Donald Trump eased up on demands to include funding for a Mexico border wall in a spending bill, clearing a major obstacle in the negotiations.
President Trump campaigned throughout the country last year promising a wall across the entire 2,200 mile southern border, promising that Mexico would pay for it. But while the idea is a priority of Trump's most fervent supporters, it is resolutely opposed by Democrats and even many Republicans, who see it as wasteful and who prefer other steps like new technologies and additional border agents to curb illegal immigration.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN late on Tuesday that the Trump administration had also informed Democrats on Monday it would move discussions on building a border wall to September, when the government must negotiate the budget for its next fiscal year. "And we thought that was going to get a deal done and we've not heard anything from them today," he said. "So I'm not sure what's happening."
Even though Trump's fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they only have 52 seats in the Senate. To amass the 60 votes needed there to pass the budget, Republicans will have to bring Democratic lawmakers onto their side.
The most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said on Tuesday his party is concerned about the ratio of increase in defense and non-defense spending. Democrats prefer a one-to-one ratio, and boosting both sides of the budget equally could become a sticking point in negotiations.
Democrats also want provisions for more healthcare coverage for coal miners and appropriations for healthcare subsidies. Health insurance would abruptly become unaffordable for 6 million Americans who rely on cost-sharing subsidies under the national health plan commonly called Obamacare.
The U.S. Congress was moving closer to crafting a deal to avoid shutting down at the stroke of midnight on Friday, but the details and even broad strokes of an agreement were still murky. Unless consensus is reached on catch-all $1 trillion legislation for the remainder of the 2017 budget year and leftover business from 2016, the government will partially shut down Saturday. A very short-term extension, known as a "continuing resolution," is likely. Many policy makers are nervous about a repeat of 2013, when the government was shuttered for 17 days.
Meanwhile, a U.S. judge blocked Trump's executive order that could deny billions of dollars to so-called sanctuary cities harboring illegal immigrants. His decision -- which could affect more than 300 cities and counties that have denounced Trump's order -- is another blow to the White House following successful court challenges to its two travel bans targeting Muslim-majority countries.
The White House reacted with a vitriolic statement late Tuesday, claiming that "the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy."