December 18, 2018 10:33 pm
Updated: December 18, 2018 10:44 pm

Trump appears to back off $5B demand for border wall to avoid government shutdown

WATCH: White House steps back from shutdown threat

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President Donald Trump appeared Tuesday to back off his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall, signalling for the first time that he might be open to a deal that would avoid a partial government shutdown.

The White House set the tone when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that Trump doesn’t want to shut down the government, though just last week he said he’d be “proud” to do so.

WATCH: Will Trump shut down government over border wall?

The president would consider other options and the administration was looking at ways to find the money elsewhere, Sanders said.

It was a turnaround after days of impasse. Without a resolution, more than 800,000 government workers could be furloughed or sent to work without pay beginning at midnight Friday, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.

One option that has been circulating on Capitol Hill would be to simply approve government funding at existing levels, without a boost for the border, as a stopgap measure to kick the issue = into the new Congress next month. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., confirmed late Tuesday his office was preparing legislation to keep government funded, likely into February.

WATCH: Pelosi says she prays Trump will resist shutting U.S. government down over border wall


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The White House preference was for a longer-term package, although the conversation remained fluid and Trump has been known to quickly change course, said a person familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to discuss them by name.

“We want to know what can pass,” Sanders said at a press briefing. “Once they make a decision and they put something on the table, we’ll make a determination on whether we’ll move forward.”

She also said the president “has asked every agency to look and see if they have money that can be used.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump doesn’t want a ‘concrete wall,’ he wants ‘artistically designed steel slats'

The turn of events kick-started negotiations that had been almost nonexistent since last week’s televised meeting at the White House, when Trump neither accepted nor rejected the Democrats’ offer. They had proposed keeping funding at current levels of $1.3 billion for border security fencing and other improvements, but not for the wall.

The Senate’s top Republican and Democratic leaders began negotiating new proposals and talks were expected to continue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident there would not be a government shutdown. McConnell said a stopgap measure could be approved, though he suggested that House Minority

Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become House speaker when the Democrats take control Jan. 3, would not want to saddle the new year with a budget brawl.

WATCH: Pelosi says she prays Trump will resist shutting U.S. government down over border wall

“If I were in her shoes, I would rather not be dealing with this year’s business next year,” McConnell said. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have made it clear they are not interested in funding Trump’s border wall.

During a meeting earlier Tuesday on Capitol Hill, McConnell had proposed $1.6 billion for border fencing, as outlined in a bipartisan Senate bill, plus an additional $1 billion that Trump could use on the border, according to a senior Democratic aide unauthorized to speak about the private meeting.

Democratic leaders immediately spurned the proposal. Schumer called McConnell to reject it.

WATCH: Chuck Schumer: Donald Trump threw ‘temper tantrum’ inside Oval Office during meeting

“We cannot accept the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies,” Pelosi told reporters. “So that won’t happen.”

Democrats also rejected the administration’s idea of shifting money from other accounts to pay for Trump’s wall. Schumer said there will be no wall money, “plain and simple.”

Pelosi will probably be able to quickly approve a longer-term measure to keep government running in the new year. She called it a “good sign” that the White House appeared to be backing off its demands.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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