Donald Trump has been forced into an embarrassing retreat after threatening a government shutdown if he could not get funding for his border wall.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was willing to work with Congress to avert the partial shutdown, with just days before it is due to kick in, at midnight on Friday.

The US President last week said he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security" as he demanded a new funding bill should include US$S5 billion (NZ$7.3 billion) for his infamous wall.

Democrats have refused to sign off on more than US$1.3 billion (NZ$1.89 billion) for security at the border with Mexico.

Donald Trump has been forced into an embarrassing reversal over the US government shutdown. Photo / AP
Donald Trump has been forced into an embarrassing reversal over the US government shutdown. Photo / AP

"If we don't get what we want, one way or the other — whether it's through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government," Trump told House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a heated argument last Wednesday.

But Sanders has now backtracked from his comments during that explosive televised Oval Office meeting, telling Fox News there were "other ways that we can get to that $5 billion."

She referred to a bill she said would provide US$26 billion in border security, including US$1.6 billion (NZ$2.3 billion) for the wall.

"That's something that we would be able to support," she said. "At the end of the day, we don't want to shut down the government. We want to shut down the border from illegal immigration."

She said it would need to be coupled with other funding sources, such as defence money.

Trump has said in tweets that the military could build the border wall "if the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country".

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there were
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there were "other ways" to reach the US$1.6 billion the President wants for his wall. Photo / AP

Still, the shutdown could happen, after Democrats said they would only support US$1.3 billion (NZ$1.89 billion) rather than US$1.6 billion (NZ$2.3 billion) in the House of Representatives.

Senate leaders are furiously negotiating to avert the federal shutdown, which could see nine of 15 vital agencies — including the departments of transport, commerce, homeland security and agriculture — closed for the Christmas holidays.


A shutdown could drain billions from the economy, and would be "a costly way to engage in a fight", Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told the US ABC.

It would be the third in just two years, taking place just as the President departs to spend Christmas at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida at the end of the week.

In late 2017, analysts from Standard & Poor's predicted a government shutdown would cost taxpayers US$6.5 billion (NZ$9.4 billion) per week, in a report entitled, "With a US Government Shutdown, There Will Be Blood."

It would leave hundreds of thousands of federal employees on leave without pay or working without pay over the break, costing billions of dollars and leading to transport delays and the closure of iconic sites such as the Statue of Liberty.

Trump does not have the votes from the Republican-led Congress to support his demand for border wall construction. Democrats have only offering to continue funding at current levels, US$1.3 billion (NZ$1.80 billion), not for the wall but for fencing and other border security.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed US$1.6 billion (NZ$2.3 billion) for border security, as outlined in a bipartisan Senate bill, plus an additional US$1 billion (NZ$1.4 billion) that Trump could use on the border, according to a senior Democratic aide unauthorised to speak publicly about the private meeting.

But the aide said Democrats were likely to reject that and characterised the additional money as a "slush fund."

Trump had been clear he was ready to shut down the government if he did not get support, with White House senior advisor Stephen Miller saying on Sunday there would "absolutely" be a shutdown "if it comes to it".

But reports stated that the White House was privately comfortable with the spending bill agreed by the Senate — and Trump was accused of using the wall as a political tool.

- With AP