WASHINGTON: Congressional negotiators dug in for a weekend of talks on a security plan that includes some sort of barrier on the US-Mexican border, hoping to complete a deal to avert another government shutdown that’s also acceptable to President Donald Trump.
Trump was back in the fray late Saturday afternoon, indicating in a tweet that if Democrats didn’t give him all the wall money he’s demanded, he may use executive action to build it. Democrats have warned such action would face court challenges, and some Republicans have suggested it’s an option best avoided.
Negotiators on Saturday were homing in on a proposal with border barrier funding of between US$1.3 billion and US$2 billion, said a person familiar with the talks. That’s far lower than the US$5.7 billion that Trump had been demanding.
Representative Steven Palazzo, a Republican member of the House-Senate panel holding the talks, said Friday that he expects a deal “before the end of the weekend” that could be finalized on Monday. The Mississippi lawmaker said some key details are still under negotiation, including the amount of money for barriers on the US-Mexico border.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby are scheduled to appear on political talk shows on Sunday morning, which could provide additional clarity on how talks are progressing.
Another Republican on the negotiating panel, Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, said the party wants as much barrier funding as possible, and he hopes that the final amount is above US$2 billion. House Appropriations Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement that Democrats want the figure to be less than US$2 billion.
Even so, Fleischman said chances of a government shutdown triggered by an impasse are “next to nil.”
“There’s next to no appetite in the room on either side in either body, and that’s a good thing. We didn’t want the government shut down the first time,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Friday.
Indicating the level of distaste for another shutdown, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said in late January that closing the government as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations “should be as off-limits as chemical weapons are to warfare.”
Democrats and Republicans continued to exchange proposals on Friday. Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger said there still were “issues to be worked out.”
“It is not just numbers” on money, she said. “It is a fence and all that comes with it.”
The assessments came the day after the top Democrat and Republican on the conference committee negotiating a deal said they’re nearing an accord, but that the process may run into the weekend. Lawmakers have a week left to pass a spending bill to avert another government shutdown. Current government funding runs out Feb. 15.
Shelby met with Trump at the White House Thursday on border security., and said he believes a deal can be reached by Monday. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, said both sides were acting in “good faith.”
The biggest wild card remains Trump, who’s continued to demand billions of dollars for a wall on the US-Mexico border, a proposal rejected by Democrats. If the president doesn’t agree to a deal reached by bipartisan negotiators, some Republican senators say they’re unlikely to go along with it, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t ruled out bringing it to a vote.
As the talks proceeded this week, Trump’s campaign sent a solicitation email to supporters asking them to vote on whether the president should declare a national emergency to build the border wall, an option he’s been floating for some weeks.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Friday he was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers invited by Mulvaney to meet Saturday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in a remote corner of Maryland.
Others at the meeting include Democratic Representatives Henry Cuellar of Texas, Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, and Peter Welch of Vermont. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Friday the off-campus event would allow a “free exchange of thoughts and ideas.” The talks could focus more on longer-term issues, including the debt ceiling, than the pending border deal, lawmakers said.