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Confusion over Trump's border wall delays spending talks

Confusion over Trump's border wall delays spending talks
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Senate negotiators say a lack of clarity from President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE about his plans for a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is holding up talks to avoid a government shutdown.

Trump has demanded tougher immigration controls and more border-security measures in return for relief for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients in the 2018 spending bill.

But Republicans and Democrats working on a possible immigration deal said Wednesday they're still waiting to receive Trump's specific demands for tighter border security to hash out a deal.

Republicans are now saying that a deal to fund the government might have to move separately from a bill that provides a DACA fix and tightens border security.

Democrats, however, say they extracted a concession from GOP leaders and senior Trump administration officials Wednesday afternoon to keep the spending and immigration talks linked as part of the same bargain.

The biggest question is whether Trump will insist on building a 2,200-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as he indicated in a recent interview with The New York Times, or whether he’ll settle for increased patrols and surveillance.

“That’s something we’re waiting on the White House to give us clarity on,” said Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh, Ford saga approaches bitter end MORE (R-Okla.), one of the negotiators. “When you talk to [the Department of Homeland Security] and the other individuals, they talk about technology, they talk about personnel, they talk about physical barriers."

“The president has just said, ‘I call it wall.’ Everything is ‘wall.’ But I don’t think he really means a 30-foot high wall for 2,000 miles,” Lankford added.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to meet with Trump on Thursday to get a better sense of what border security needs must be met as part of an immigration deal.

Trump indicated in an impromptu interview with The New York Times last week that he would insist on a border wall in exchange for granting legal status to immigrants covered under the Obama-era DACA program.

“I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall,” Trump told reporter Michael Schmidt. 

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But negotiators are somewhat confused by what Trump means when he calls for a wall.

The president appears in his public pronouncements to be calling for a 2,200-mile solid structure, while senior administration officials talk about the wall as more of a metaphor for tighter security.

“There will be wall components, not a 2,200-mile wall,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Trump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project CNN's Smerconish: What do Saudis have over American presidents? MORE (R-S.C.), one of the negotiators, said before the Christmas break.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin to Trump: ‘We’re the mob? Give me a break’ Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight MORE (D-Ill.), one of the Democrats working on a prospective immigration deal, said the reason Trump hasn’t wanted to put his proposal for a border wall on paper is because it would appear unfeasible and draw opposition from fellow Republicans.

“It has been almost three months since we asked the administration to provide us with a specific border security proposal. Still, I haven’t seen it,” Durbin said.

“What do you think ‘the wall’ means? Nobody knows. When they’re forced to put it on paper they have a problem. It’s too expensive and it’s controversial and there are parts of it that Republicans don’t like so they’re afraid to write it down. But they’re holding us up.”

Now some senior Republicans are floating the possibility that the 2018 spending deal will move separately from immigration legislation.

Government funding runs out on Jan. 19, and Congress has until March 5 to come up with a solution to protect "Dreamers" from deportation.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Through a national commitment to youth sports, we can break the obesity cycle Florida politics play into disaster relief debate MORE (S.D.) said Wednesday that he doesn’t think the spending package will include the immigration legislation.

“I think that can be handled it separately,” he said. “On this one you’ve got health-care extenders, tax extenders, you have disaster, 702, Alexander–Murray, you have a lot of moving parts,” referring to various provisions to extend expiring tax breaks, subsidize insurance companies for covering low-income people, authorize intelligence surveillance and provide disaster relief funding that will be added to the fiscal year 2018 spending bill.

Thune said a prospective deal on "Dreamers" and border security probably won’t be done in time to add to the spending bill.

“I don’t think they’re anywhere close. That’s not ripe yet,” he said of a possible immigration deal.

But Democrats are pushing back hard on the notion that the omnibus spending package will move without a deal on immigration.

A Democratic leadership aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats slide in battle for Senate McConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant Pelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.) agreed in a Wednesday afternoon meeting that the fate of "Dreamers" will be part of the broader talks on spending.

“The four leaders and White House officials agreed to keep negotiating a bipartisan budget agreement to lift the defense and nondefense caps, a DACA and border agreement, a health-care package, as well as a disaster aid bill,” the aide said.

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Consumer bureau to probe top Trump official's past racial comments On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE and legislative affairs director Marc Short also attended the Wednesday meeting.