By Susan Cornwell and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would be willing to shut down the U.S. government if Congress does not provide enough funding for border security, reversing a stance he took a day earlier.
Trump made his comments at a meeting with congressional Republican leaders at the White House about the legislative agenda for the next few months, including extending government funding past a Sept. 30 deadline.
He said Congress was making “tremendous progress” on funding, but that he wanted to make good on a promise to fund border security. Trump has repeatedly threatened not to sign funding legislation if Congress fails to include enough money for a wall on the border with Mexico.
Trump reiterated that threat on Wednesday. Responding to a reporter’s question about a possible shutdown, he said: “If it happens, it happens. If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do anything. We have to protect our borders.”
His stance contradicts an interview he gave to the Daily Caller on Tuesday, when he said: “I don’t like the idea of shutdowns.”
“I don’t see even myself or anybody else closing down the country right now,” Trump was quoted as saying.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview with Fox News, called the meeting with Trump a “good discussion” and said he expected the president to sign funding bills before the end of fiscal year, averting a shutdown.
McConnell said there was “no chance” of a government shutdown.
“We are still in favour of the wall. We still want to get funding for the wall. But we think the best time to have that discussion is after the election,” he said.
Republican lawmakers had welcomed Trump’s move away from a possible government shutdown, saying party leaders wanted “no drama” ahead of the Nov. 6 election to decide whether fellow conservatives keep hold of Congress.
House Republicans, who were leaving a closed-door party meeting held on Capitol Hill before Trump made his remarks, said the message from leadership was aimed at avoiding any crises before the midterm contest, an approach echoed by several Republican senators.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a Republican representative with close ties to the administration, said he did not expect the federal government to shut, and that any decision on the controversial issue of funding border security would likely be delayed.
“We were told no drama,” Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky conservative, said after the closed-door meeting.
The planned border wall, the Trump administration’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries and other immigration issues loom large as Americans prepare to head to the polls in November.
Trump campaigned heavily on a promise to build a wall that would be paid for by Mexico, which it has refused to do. He has subsequently turned to Congress to seek $25 billion for the project, along with other immigration demands.
Still, lawmakers have not reached a consensus on any immigration steps.
While a few conservatives like Republican Representative Jim Jordan insist the border issue should be dealt with now, others seem resigned to waiting at least until the new Congress takes office in January following the election.
Trump and U.S. lawmakers averted a government shutdown in March after passing a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30.
A shutdown could backfire on Trump if voters blame Republicans for any federal government service disruptions.
“It doesn’t benefit anybody, certainly not Republicans,” Republican Senator Jeff Flake said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Eric Beech; editing by Bernadette Baum, Tom Brown and Diane Craft)