In a recent rally in Pheonix, Arizona, Donald Trump threatened to shut down the government if that's what it would take to build his infamous Mexico border wall:

"If we have to close down our government, we're building that wall,"

"We're going to have our wall. The American people voted for immigration control. We're going to get that wall."

If Trump is the President, how can the government 'stop' him from building the wall? Does he not have the power, as President, to overrule the government? How will shutting the government down enable the Mexico border wall to be built?

  • 4
    Trump is part of the government, but the power in the US is divided into branches. In particular, budget is the responsibility of the Congress. This are are just political games between Donald Trump and the Congress. So far he is mostly producing hot air. Mark my words: The Wall may be built but maybe also it ain't. It all depends on whether Congress and president agree or not. Everything else is not serious. Aug 24, 2017 at 12:01
  • @Trilarion If Trump is part of the government, what would happen to him if he were to shut it down? Would he then be in control of the budget, therefore allowing him to access the necessary funds for the build?
    – Cthulhu
    Aug 24, 2017 at 12:11
  • 3
    No, the money always comes from the Congress, which provides the funding of the government. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_budget_process Aug 24, 2017 at 12:16
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Aug 25, 2017 at 21:28

3 Answers 3


Forcing a government shutdown doesn't get Trump any budget for anything. It's the threat of a government shutdown with which he hopes to force Congress to cooperate.

A government shutdown happens when Congress and President can not agree on a budget plan. The result is that the executive branch of the US government is unable to provide most of its services, except the most essential ones. That's not just bad for the executive branch. It's bad for the whole country. It is a strategy of mutually assured destruction. In this situation both sides hope that the other will give in to prevent looking like the obstructionists who destroyed the whole country just because they couldn't have their way.

Forcing government shutdowns was used quite often in the past to enforce political demands. The last one was in 2013 when the Republican-dominated Congress wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act. This situation was actually eerily similar: The President had an expensive pet project which was a major campaign promise for him, but the majority of Congress objected to it. So Congress tried to kill it by refusing funding. In the 2013 shutdown, the President won in the end. Congress gave up and passed a budget with funds allocated to the ACA.

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    Differences are probably that at that time the president and the majority in Congress came from different sides, now they nominally are from the same side. Also I wonder, could Congress increase the debt ceiling and still not fund the Mexican border wall? In a way the question would be if the president can unilaterally go into shutdown if he wants to do so? Aug 24, 2017 at 13:33
  • 5
    Okay I think I can answer my own comment. President vetoes Congress on the budget which results in a shutdown, then either Congress overrides the presidential veto or negotiates an amicable solution. Either way the shutdown can be resolved. Aug 24, 2017 at 13:48
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    @Trilarion At this point you might as well say that Trump is his own side
    – Pyritie
    Aug 24, 2017 at 15:31
  • "Forcing government shutdowns was used quite often in the past to enforce political demands." That doesn't ring true to me. There's been a lot of threats of shutdown and brinksmanship and last minute deals, but actual government shutdowns have only happened a handful of times in our nation's history. The number of actual shutdowns during the Trump admin appears to be unprecedented. Jan 15, 2019 at 17:27

Does he not have the power, as President, to overrule the government?


Congress controls the budget. In order to spend money, Donald Trump (or any president) needs Congress to appropriate it.

From the constitution:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

So Congress has the power to budget money (and raise revenue to pay for it, but that's not what we're discussing here). The executive (headed by the president) actually spends the money but only within the confines of the congressional budget.

He could veto a bill to prevent it becoming law. He can interpret existing law in the best light possible (an executive order is an example of this). But he can't actually write law or appropriate money himself. He can only work with what this Congress or some previous Congress has given him.

This is the basic concept of the United States government. There is a separation of powers with checks and balances to preserve it.

In and of itself, a government shutdown doesn't give him much spending authority that he does not already have. Traditionally, it has allowed presidents to determine emergency spending. It's unclear what would happen if he asserted that building the wall was emergency spending. Lots of court cases presumably.

The more normal process is that a shutdown would stop a number of things that Democrats want, e.g. Obamacare payments, other Medicaid payments, welfare payments, etc. So to get those things back, they compromise. And of course, the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress. The question is if a compromise can reach the Senate's supermajority requirement to avoid a filibuster.

  • 3
    Republicans have majorities, but the question is how many Republicans would continude to support Trump if he went to such an extreme. Seems like a good number aren't all that happy with him as it is: trying to shut down the government (and thus blocking all the things Republicans might like to do with their majority) might be the proverbial straw that breaks the elephant's back.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 24, 2017 at 17:37
  • @jamesqf It might be that proverbial straw ending his presidency prematurely or it might be an efficient way to bring those republican members of Congress who are opposing the president's stance back in line with his vision of prioritizing building a Mexican border wall. Time will tell. Aug 25, 2017 at 10:03

If Trump is the President, how can the government 'stop' him from building the wall?

The wall costs money. Congress is in charge of the money. They can simply not allocate money to this project.

Unless, of course, Trump somehow finally gets Mexico to pay for it like he's been promising.

Does he not have the power, as President, to overrule the government?

He has veto power. However, the senate has the power to override a veto via a 2/3rds vote.

How will shutting the government down enable the Mexico border wall to be built?

It won't. It's just a threat. A somewhat odd one, as it won't win very many favors with anyone.

  • Idle threats from Trump?
    – Barmar
    Aug 25, 2017 at 23:04
  • 1
    Update: The shutdown was more than a threat and has won lots of favours with lots of people (and lost many favours with many other people). Jan 12, 2019 at 6:46

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