Pelosi signals openness to new border ‘infrastructure’

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Julián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Swalwell on impeachment: 'We're on that road' after Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday that while Democrats are adamantly opposed to extending the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, they're open to new fencing and other barriers as part of ongoing talks to prevent another government shutdown.

“There's not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi said during her weekly press briefing in the Capitol.

“However, if they have some suggestions about certain localities where technology, some infrastructure [is appropriate] ... that’s part of the negotiation.”  

ADVERTISEMENT

Pelosi pointed to proposals floated this week by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), who represents a Texas border district, to build low-lying vehicle barriers and levee walls along the Rio Grande River as a compromise to break the budget impasse.

Pelosi suggested Democrats would accept the construction of such structures, if they represent the most efficient and effective way to secure the southern border.

“Many places on the border there are cliffs, there's a river, and there are 600 miles of something. Three hundred [miles] of them are Normandy fences,” she said, making a cross with her arms to demonstrate what such fencing looks like. “Three hundred miles of this so that cars cannot go by. 

“If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call it a wall.”

Trump insisted later Thursday that he would not accept a deal without money for his long-desired border wall, telling reporters in the Oval Office, "If they're not going to give money for the wall ... it’s not going to work."

The president also cited what he called a threat posed by a new migrant caravan heading toward the U.S. border, claiming that “Nancy Pelosi will be begging for a wall."

Pelosi's comments underscore the extent to which the current border security debate has evolved into one of semantics, as both sides seek to claim a victory amid the escalating battle over the border wall, which stood as a central element of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

A group of 17 bipartisan negotiators, representing both chambers, met for the first time Wednesday in a public hearing that essentially allowed each party to air their opening bids in the debate to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September. The partisan battle over the wall had resulted in a five-week partial closure of the government, beginning on Dec. 22, which marked the longest shutdown in the nation's history. 

Lawmakers last week passed a short-term funding extension to reopen the government through Feb. 15. A failure to reach a deal before then would cause parts of the government to shutter once again. 

Trump on Thursday bashed the negotiations as an effort in futility, warning Republicans that they’re wasting their time seeking a compromise.

“Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!” he tweeted. 

Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesMnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision Live coverage: Barr faces House panel amid questions over Mueller report Overnight Defense: Dem chair rejects Pentagon request to use B for border wall | House fails to override Trump veto | Pelosi at AIPAC vows Israel won't be 'wedge issue' MORE (R-Ga.), a member of the conference committee, acknowledged Wednesday that the negotiations will likely boil down to “discussions about terminology and words we use.”

Cuellar, leaving the opening hearing, emphasized that the Democrats' initial position is to take a hard line in opposition to new border barriers of any kind.

“Right now I'm saying no wall,” he said. 

Yet he also noted that the border currently features 654 miles of barriers, of which roughly 300 miles are not a wall, but a low-lying vehicle barrier. 

“Hint, hint, 300 miles of vehicle barriers,” Cuellar said. “There's ways to get where we need to get.”

Pelosi, a former appropriator, has repeatedly said that members of that panel, left to their own devices, will find a compromise to satisfy both sides — a message she amplified again on Thursday. 

Pelosi also promised to bring to the floor whatever compromise the conference negotiators agree to. 

“If they come up with a bipartisan consensus, of course,” she said. 

The window for action is closing quickly. By the new House rules adopted by Pelosi and the Democrats, the legislation would have to hit the floor days before the Feb 15 deadline. With that in mind, Pelosi encouraged the negotiators to “keep it simple” and avoid extraneous measures that might bog down the talks.  

“In order to have a bill signed by the president, we have to have a signed conference report by next Friday,” she said. “So we only have this week plus one day, with the State of the Union in between, to get this done.”

Updated: 1:45 p.m.