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 TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report 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 AguilarLeft flexes muscle in immigration talks Immigration groups press for pairing Dreamer benefits with border security Lawmakers haggling over border dollars much lower than Trump's demand 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 McConnellRepublicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump Overnight Energy: Students around globe demand climate action | EPA bans consumer sales of deadly chemical in paint strippers | Green New Deal set for Senate vote The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP MORE (R-Ky.) said he had advised Trump on Congress’s power to overturn such a declaration, a vote that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMulvaney: Military projects impacted by wall funding haven't been decided yet Left-wing Dems in minority with new approach to spending Julian Castro hints at brother Joaquin's Senate run 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 ThuneSenators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law GOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump We need a national privacy law that respects the First Amendment 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 DurbinSenate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns 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.