WASHINGTON — Five days ahead of the latest funding deadline, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that he "absolutely cannot" rule out the possibility of another partial government shutdown if Congress doesn't come to an agreement that includes substantial funding for a border wall.
Mulvaney blamed the uncertainty on congressional Democrats, arguing that the party appears torn between the "hardcore, left wing" that sees any funding for President Trump's signature border wall as a non-starter, and a more moderate faction that appears open to compromise.
"Let's say the hardcore, left wing of the Democrat Party prevails in this negotiation and they put a bill on the president's desk with, say, zero money for the wall, or $800 million, an absurdly low number. How does he sign that?" Mulvaney told "Meet the Press."
"You cannot take a shutdown off the table and you cannot take $5.7 billion off the table," he added of Trump's initial price tag for the wall.
But he said that the "most likely outcome" is that Congress strikes a deal palatable enough to win the president's signature.
"If you end up someplace in the middle, yes, then what you'll probably see is the president say, 'Yes, okay. And then I'll go find the money someplace else'" to fully fund a wall.
Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, told "Fox News Sunday" that "talks are stalled" and that there's a "50/50 chance" that Congress can reach a deal to avoid shutting the government down for the second time in two months.
The wall remains the largest sticking point in these negotiations. Trump still says the wall is necessary. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far held firm on her party's opposition to its funding.
And a senior Democratic aide told NBC that there are other major debates yet to be solved, including a Democratic push to trade funding for new border barriers for a limit on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's detention beds as a way to push back at the administration's border policies.
Republicans and Democrats have until Feb. 15 to find an agreement thanks to last month's deal that lifted the historic 35-day partial shutdown.
Even if Congress ultimately passes something Trump supports, Mulvaney described any deal as the beginning not the end, of Trump's efforts to build the wall he believes is necessary to secure America's southern border. One option that's been floated by the president and his allies is declaring a national emergency to secure the funding, but it's unclear whether that would survive a legal challenge.
"The president really does believe that there is a national security crisis and a humanitarian crisis at the border, and he will do something about it. So whether or not he gets $1.6 billion from Congress, whether or not he gets $2.5 [billion] or $5.7 [billion], he's going to do whatever he legally can to secure that border," he said.
"There are pots of money where all presidents have access to without a national emergency. And there are ones that he will not have access to without that declaration."