By Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday vowed to go around Congress and utilize the U.S. military to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border even if he does not get funding, just hours before he was to meet with the top two Democratic lawmakers.
In a series of early-morning tweets, Trump praised his administration’s moves to block migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico and said efforts to stop a caravan of migrants seeking to reach the United States were a success, and vowed that “the Wall will get built.”
The president is seeking $5 billion for the border wall, a campaign promise that he has made into a central issue as Congress seeks to finalize spending before some federal government funding expires on Dec. 21.
“If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall,” Trump said on Twitter ahead of the 11:30 a.m. EST meeting.
U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi – who has called building a wall “immoral” – are expected to offer just $1.3 billion for border security when they meet with Trump, a senior Democratic aide said.
This is less than the $1.6 billion a bipartisan Senate committee has approved, but it would extend current funding levels at the Department of Homeland Security until Sept. 30.
Democrats say that what Trump wants cannot pass Congress, and warn that if Trump insists on his way, part of the government could be forced into a shutdown. Congress has not yet approved spending bills for about a quarter of the government.
Even though Congress is still controlled by Republicans until year’s end, Democrats are needed to get the supermajority required to clear Senate procedural hurdles on spending legislation.
Asked if a compromise was possible, Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday: “We’ll see.”
Trump deployed the U.S. military to the border area before Nov. 6 congressional elections, calling the caravan an “invasion.” Critics decried the action as politically motivated.
For Trump and his Republicans, it may be their last chance to get wall funding before Democrats take over the majority in the new House of Representatives in January. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday defended Trump’s $5 billion request, saying “the need is great.”
This year, “Customs and Border Patrol reported a 30 percent increase in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
But Pelosi told members of her caucus Tuesday that she will oppose any wall funding above $1.3 billion, a level that would rule out new construction, according to a lawmaker who attended the meeting.
“She just kind of outlined … that the wall increased funding is not really up for debate,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, who is expected to chair the House homeland security committee when Democrats take control of the House in January.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)