Trump, Pelosi barrel toward final border wall showdown
President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are headed to a final showdown over his signature border wall, setting the stage for a rematch of a fight two years ago that shuttered the government for 35 days.
The White House is requesting a $2 billion installment to continue building the wall, while Pelosi and House Democrats have countered with no new money for construction.
Democrats have also proposed rescinding earlier wall funding, according to a House Democratic aide.
And to guard against Trump’s workaround to the previous standoff, the House spending bill prohibits the administration from shifting funds from other accounts to pay for the wall.
Aides say congressional leaders and the heads of the Senate and House Appropriations committees will soon negotiate a compromise between the $2 billion request and counteroffer of zero dollars once both chambers settle on the allocation amounts for individual spending bills that will make up the year-end omnibus.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said negotiators are “close” to settling those top-line numbers but declined to comment on what the funding number for the wall is likely to be.
But whatever the agreed-upon amount, many Republicans are predicting Trump is going to put up a fight for more wall funding.
“It’s extremely critical, and I think he’s going to go to the mat on the border wall. And I think a lot of Republicans are going to go with him,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist.
“The immigration issue is about being pro-worker and pro-jobs, and that is important to the Trump message going forward. And if Republicans don’t put up on this, they’re worried that the base will lose faith in them on one of their issues,” he added.
O’Connell said the wall fight is elevated by President-elect Joe Biden’s vow to reverse Trump’s executive orders on immigration.
Biden has pledged to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to shield immigrants who came to the country at a young age from deportation and to overturn the travel ban on people visiting the U.S. from majority-Muslim countries.
The former vice president also wants to change Trump’s policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court.
Groups on the left are urging Pelosi to stand strong in opposing new money for the border wall. They also want Congress to decrease funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
“We are opposed to any additional border wall funding. This is a signature issue for Trump, building his border wall, which by the way he claimed Mexico would pay for. He has received $4 billion from Congress for his border wall, but in addition to that he has illegally siphoned money from the other parts of the government,” said Madhu Grewal, federal immigration policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) hit Trump for repurposing nearly $4 billion in military funds to pay for wall construction in 2019.
Grewal noted that Biden has said he will stop border wall construction when he’s in office.
“So it begs the question, what is this funding going towards?” said Grewal, adding that the wall is “harmful for border communities” and “endangers wildlife along the border.”
“There’s a wide coalition of groups that have come together opposing border wall construction,” she said.
The White House in its fiscal 2021 budget request asked for about $2 billion to construct additional border wall sections. Senate Republicans support the request.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended $1.96 billion for 82 miles for the “border wall system,” according to a funding measure the panel posted last week.
The omnibus spending package for fiscal 2020, which ended on Sept. 30, included $1.375 billion for physical barriers along the southern border. The White House request for 2021 represents a $625 million increase, though it’s less than the $5 billion the White House requested for 2020.
Progressives in the House are likely to balk at any compromise funding figure for the wall.
The American Prospect, a left-leaning publication, wrote that Democrats “caved” to Trump on the border wall when it agreed to the $1.375 billion in December 2019.
Earlier that year, progressives were infuriated when the chamber cleared a $4.6 billion emergency funding bill from the GOP-controlled Senate to improve conditions at detention facilities on the border.
Brent Wilkes, senior vice president for institutional development at the civic engagement group Hispanic Federation, said the border wall does not need a funding increase.
“We believe the wall is a waste of money. It doesn’t work, it’s largely being done to satisfy Trump’s ego. Trump is not the president and this is an unnecessary expense that should be discontinued,” he said. “We think any funding that’s in the budget once Biden takes office should be repurposed back to the agencies that lost the money to begin with.”
“We think that Biden, as president, will have the flexibility he needs to redirect that funding to some of the things that were put on the back burner that actually did work,” Wilkes added. “We need a humane immigration policy. We need to restore our refugee policy.”
Conservatives point out that funding the border wall is an important symbolic opportunity for Trump.
“My sense is the president is going to try to insist on this kind of as a goodbye present for Biden,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates lower levels of immigration.
“I think it’s kind of a last-ditch political effort,” he said.
Krikorian added that the border wall will be a legacy of sorts for Trump on the issue of immigration.
“I was a little dubious four or five years ago,” he said. “My sense is it was oversimplifying a complicated issue, but symbols matter. The fact that the president got a significant amount of wall built … is important.
“It sends a message that we’re serious about this,” he said.
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