Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, speaks during a news conference after a GOP caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. Congressional leaders were moving toward a stopgap funding bill that would avert a partial government shutdown starting Friday night and defer a battle over President Donald Trump's demand for money for a border wall. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said he's 'sure' the government will not shut down, but it's unclear what deal can be reached. © Bloomberg

Washington remained at an impasse over a potential government shutdown on Tuesday, with Democrats refusing to back a bill that would give President Donald Trump $1bn in unspent funds for his border wall.

Senate Republican Mitch McConnell asserted that he was “sure” there would not be a government shutdown on Friday — the deadline Congress faces to pass seven crucial funding bills.

However, there was no sign of how the two sides would reach a solution that was acceptable to the White House. Mr Trump told reporters on Tuesday that “it was too early to say” whether there would be a shutdown.

His comments came a week after the US president insisted to Democratic leaders that he would shut down the government if Democrats did not agree to a bill that allocated $5bn in funding for building his wall on the US-Mexico border.

On Tuesday, the White House appeared to walk back that demand, suggesting that a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security would include $1.6bn in border fencing, while $1bn in funding for the border wall would come from unused funds from other agencies.

Yet Democratic leaders said they would not support that plan either.

“We are not supporting what they proposed, which is a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his immigration policies,” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House minority leader, told reporters on Tuesday.

“What’s happening at the border is shameful and goes against everything we stand for as a country,” she added.

Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, said his party would not support the White House taking money from other agencies nor from savings from a new US trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

“They need congressional approval [to use that funding] and they’re not going to get it for the wall. Plain and simple,” Mr Schumer told reporters.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, said the administration had been “disappointed” that Congress had yet to vote on the funding bills, but offered little guidance on what solution Mr Trump would be willing to back and sign into law.

She said Mr Trump had already talked to administration officials about finding the additional $1bn for the wall.

“The president has asked every one of his cabinet secretaries to look for funding that can be used to protect our borders and give the president the ability to fulfil his constitutional obligation to protect the American people by having a secure border,” she said.

Additional revenues for the wall could also come from savings from the new US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, Ms Sanders claimed.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Ms Pelosi said Democrats had suggested passing six funding bills and then a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security, which would keep funding for the agencies at existing levels and delay a broader debate on border security funding. Alternatively, Congress could pass seven continuing resolutions.

Those options appeared the most likely for avoiding a partial government shutdown before the holidays.

But Mr McConnell urged Ms Pelosi to reconsider, suggesting that a new round of government funding negotiations would put a damper on her first days as House Speaker next year.

“If I were in her shoes, I would rather not be dealing with this year’s business next year,” he said. “If we end up going with a relatively short-term [continuing resolution] we will end up in effect punting this year’s business into next year,” he said. It was “not a very desirable outcome”, he added.

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