U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media (Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg)

Trump, Democrats Inch Closer Amid Personal Shutdown Sniping

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump and senior Democrats took their first steps toward a possible compromise deal on immigration and border security over the weekend, even as the president ramped up his feud with Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the government shutdown in its fifth week.

It’s not clear whether Trump’s olive branch will yield fruitful negotiations, given that Democrats want the government open first, want more than he’s currently offering, and don’t trust him. And it’s unclear how much Trump is willing to cut a deal as he tries to shift blame for the longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history.

Trump, Democrats Inch Closer Amid Personal Shutdown Sniping

With no formal negotiations happening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans votes to advance the president’s latest proposal as early as Tuesday testing what so far has been a nearly united Democratic insistence on reopening the government ahead of negotiations on a border-security package.

Democrats have said they don’t want to reward Trump for what they say is taking 800,000 federal workers hostage to get his border wall, lest they give him an incentive to use the shutdown tactic again. Even so, there were the first real signs of movement in weeks.

On Saturday, Trump offered three years of deportation relief for some immigrants as well as changes to asylum rules in return for $5.7 billion for border walls and assorted other upgrades. Democrats including Pelosi rejected the idea before Trump spoke.

A Bigger Deal?

But a day later, some Democrats started to float a broader immigration package, and Trump tweeted that he’d be prepared to offer a broader amnesty for a broader deal, defying some of his closest conservative allies. At the same time, Trump continued to taunt Pelosi on Twitter, calling her a “Radical Democrat” days after he scuttled her secret trip to visit troops in Afghanistan aboard a military jet after she suggested that he postpone the State of the Union address.

Trump said his latest proposal doesn’t include “amnesty,” but said he’s prepared to offer that for the right price.

“Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” he tweeted on Sunday, before adding a warning to Pelosi: “Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”

Democrats indicated on Sunday talk shows a willingness to fund border upgrades of some sort, but they want a permanent fix protecting Dreamers -- young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children -- and other migrants from deportation, not the three-year-reprieve offered by Trump.

‘Common Ground’

“We would love to have a permanent fix” for people eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as well as immigrants with Temporary Protected Status “just as he wants a permanent wall,” said Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat.

“Let’s go back and forth on this and see where we can find common ground,” he said.

But Clyburn again insisted Trump reopen the government first, and Trump gave no sign he would agree to do so, even for a few weeks, to give negotiators a chance to cut a deal.

There appeared to be little progress taking place on Monday, a federal holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. By midday, Trump had made a 15-minute foray from the White House to visit King’s memorial, speaking for less than a minute. On Twitter, he criticized Democrats for campaigning on “working within Washington and ‘getting things done!’ How’s that working out?”

The stalemate leaves Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer facing another choice as lawmakers return to town: make a fresh counteroffer of their own that would include wall money, or stick to their previously unified negotiating positions and hope a majority of the public continues to blame the president or Republicans.

Senate votes

The spending package McConnell plans to advance--- which includes funding for Trump’s wall and immigration proposals with disaster relief -- was still being tweaked over the weekend, a White House official said. Numerous Senate Republicans tweeted their support, and Vice President Mike Pence is expected to continue talks with lawmakers at the Capitol.

After Trump spoke on Saturday, Shahira Knight, his legislative director, led a conference call with House Republicans while Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke with Senate Republicans. White House officials continued their outreach to individual lawmakers on Sunday.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Pence held out hope that some rank-and-file Democrats would break from their leadership and back the president’s package. But Democratic leaders dismissed the chances of the bill getting to 60 votes needed to advance, let alone the backing of a majority in the Democratic-controlled House.

Some 54 senators, including most Democrats, supported a path to citizenship for the DACA population in 2018 in return for $25 billion in border funding over a decade. But Trump opposed the bill because he also insisted on cuts to legal immigration.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York indicated Sunday that she’d back that proposal again.

Trump, Democrats Inch Closer Amid Personal Shutdown Sniping

“We put a deal on the table a year ago to say, we will give you the border security money that you want” in return for a path to citizenship for all “Dreamers,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “That is still there for him. The fact that he’s saying three years just for DACA just shows that he’s not serious.”

Clyburn noted he’s previously backed measures that include enhanced border control technology and drones. That, he said, would be more effective than “a monument.”

“I’ve been talking about barriers for a long time,” Clyburn said.

Pelosi’s Democrats, meanwhile, plan more votes of their own to reopen the government, with a new offer of $1 billion for border upgrades -- but not a wall -- on tap this week.

The votes would come with 800,000 federal workers about to miss their second paycheck as concerns grow about a mounting impact on the economy.

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