Negotiators optimistic about avoiding shutdown despite Trump threats

Negotiators optimistic about avoiding shutdown despite Trump threats
© Greg Nash

Congressional negotiators remain optimistic they can strike a bipartisan border security deal to avert the year's second government shutdown despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE's threats to scrap the deal and declare a national emergency to build his proposed border wall.

A bipartisan, bicameral negotiating group tasked with finalizing a deal will meet behind closed doors on Wednesday for a briefing from border security experts.

Negotiations hinge on a series of technicalities and semantics. President Trump said he wants $5.7 billion for a concrete wall or steel slats. Senate Democrats had agreed to $1.6 billion in fencing last year, while House Democrats had opposed any sort of physical barrier until last week.

But following a five-week shutdown, Democrats have indicated an openness to funding some physical barriers as part of a broader deal if experts testify that it is a cost effective measure.

“We’re not allergic to physical barrier,” said Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarDemocratic leaders seek balance amid liberal push to go big on immigration Katherine Clark quietly eyes leadership ascent The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE (D-Calif.), one of the negotiators.

Rep. Kaye Granger (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the final number associated with a barrier would not only include new construction, but also repairs to existing sites and technology that helps border patrol apprehend people.

That could help Trump claim victory using a hefty figure associated with a barrier, while Democrats use a smaller figure denoting the amount spent on new physical structures alone.

Granger, who toured the border with a few other committee members on Sunday, said border security patrol professionals cited physical barriers as a top priority. But she also said that a concrete wall wasn’t the solution.

“There’s no one that came and said we should put a solid wall all across our southern border. We didn’t say a solid wall anywhere, that’s not the thing to do,” she said.

Trump’s threats to abandon negotiations altogether in favor of a national emergency declaration have loomed over the talks.

“I don't take anything off the table. I don't like to take things off the table. It's that alternative. It's national emergency, it's other things and you know there have been plenty national emergencies called,” Trump told CBS News last week.

But sustained pushback from Republicans in Congress to an emergency declaration have boosted negotiators and focused them on striking a deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) said he had advised Trump on Congress’s power to overturn such a declaration, a vote that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNYT's Friedman repeatedly says 's---hole' in tirade against Trump on CNN GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets 'obviously not racist' On the USMCA, Pelosi can't take yes for an answer MORE (D-Calif.) could trigger in both chambers.

Others have publicly noted that lawsuits would quickly tie up an emergency declaration in court.

"It probably ends up in him not getting the result he wants, which is getting a wall build soon, not to mention the fact that it's going to occupy a lot of time up here because it's going to trigger a vote,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries High anxiety hits Senate over raising debt ceiling MORE (R-S.D.), the Senate Majority Whip.

Negotiators are widely optimistic they can strike a deal by Friday, or possibly stretch out talks over the weekend, and still ensure their legislation would have time to pass both chambers by the February 15th deadlines.

"Hope springs eternal. We are legislators and conferees by nature. We'll try to put something together,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinProblem Solvers Caucus co-chair calls Trump comments about progressive congresswomen 'totally unacceptable' Trump's tweets unify a fractured Democratic Party Sunday shows - Immigration raids dominate MORE (D-Ill.).

Failure to pass a bill, or a refusal by Trump to sign it, would lead to a new government shutdown just three weeks after the last one became the longest in the nation’s history.

So far, none of the negotiators have floated the possibility of needing a stop-gap measure to push off the deadline.

Whether Trump will ultimately endorse or veto a compromise bill, however, is anybody’s guess.

“I hope if there's a deal struck by the conference, the president would be willing to sign it,” said Thune.

“But I don't want to guarantee it."

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.