Negotiators Say They’re Closer to a Deal to Prevent Another Shutdown
(Bloomberg) -- The top Democrat and Republican working on a border-security deal said they’re nearing an accord but that negotiations may go into the weekend, with a week left to pass a spending bill to avert another government shutdown.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby went to the White House Thursday to discuss border security with President Donald Trump. The Republican senator said he updated the president on the negotiations of a House-Senate committee leading the talks. Shelby said he thinks a deal can be reached by Monday.
“The president urged me to get to yes,” Shelby said afterward. "He would like us to conclude our bill in a positive way for the American people.”
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, who with Shelby is leading the talks, said Thursday that negotiators are acting in “good faith” but may not be able to finish work by Friday as she’d hoped.
Even if lawmakers reach a bipartisan deal, the biggest question mark is Trump, who has continued to demand money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal rejected by Democrats. If Trump doesn’t agree to a deal reached by bipartisan negotiators, some GOP senators say they are unlikely to go along with it, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t ruled out bringing it to a vote.
Some Democrats have said they’re open to money for new border fencing, which may satisfy Trump’s demand. Details have yet to be resolved, and a deal could hinge on the type of fencing and how many miles would be funded.
Another negotiator, second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin, said disaster aid is also an important part of the discussions. Democrats are seeking money for hurricane-damaged areas including Puerto Rico and Florida.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a GOP negotiator on the panel, said lawmakers are making progress.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “We don’t have it nailed down for sure, but I think everyone is remaining pretty positive.”
She said she thinks negotiations over a border barrier are “down to how much and where.”
The discussions are focusing on increased funds for border barriers, technology and agents, lawmakers have said. While Trump is seeking $5.7 billion for a wall, lawmakers are discussing the use of existing styles of fencing, and Democrats are seeking money to upgrade ports of entry and to hire more immigration judges.
Asked on CNN if Republicans are demanding Trump’s $5.7 billion, Tennessee Republican Chuck Fleischmann, a member of the talks, said, “That’s a flexible situation.”
A Republican aide said the discussions involve a possible tradeoff -- as the amount of money provided for a border barrier rises, the restrictions on how the money can be spent would also increase.
Trump has mused for weeks about invoking emergency authority to bypass Congress for funds to build the wall. Shelby said he doesn’t know if Trump would consider declaring an emergency even if the panel reaches an agreement. “We can’t stop anybody from doing it," he said, while adding there is a "positive attitude from the president to work this out.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said an agreement would need to be reached by Friday to ensure legislation is passed by Feb. 15, when stopgap government funding expires. But lawmakers said a shutdown could still be averted if it takes a few days longer to reach a deal. Congress and Trump agreed to the temporary spending measure after a 35-day partial government shutdown resulting from a partisan impasse over wall funding.
Pelosi of California told reporters Thursday, “I’m just leaving the negotiating up to the negotiators. I’m not going to negotiate it in the press.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Wednesday that if Congress doesn’t agree to Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border “we’ll figure out a way to do it with executive authority.”
Mulvaney, in an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, said officials are looking at multiple options and that the approach may be to “find the money that we can spend with the lowest threat of litigation and then move from that pot of money to the next pot that maybe brings a little bit more threat of litigation and then go through the budget like that.”
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