Scrambling to avoid a shutdown

Lawmakers are pressing to avoid the second government shutdown of the year as they battle over President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE’s demand for a border wall and new funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Key lawmakers met repeatedly Monday as they sought to reach a deal before a Feb. 15 deadline for avoiding a shutdown.

“We haven’t broken it yet, but we’re talking seriously,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters.

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“It’s a very sincere discussion, and we haven’t gotten to any conclusion yet,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Helping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 MORE (D-N.Y.).

Lawmakers were set to meet at 8 p.m. to renew talks aimed at reaching a deal.

“I think we both agree that we can wrap this up tonight, do it tonight, not go over until tomorrow,” Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Perhaps the best reason to think there will not be another partial shutdown closing about a quarter of the government is the clear desire members have to avoid it. The last one took a bite out of the economy and Trump’s approval numbers; Democrats were largely seen as winning the political battle.

“Let me say very clearly, I don’t think Democrats or Republicans want a shutdown. So, one option or another, we will resolve this,” Lowey said.

Yet a fight over funding for ICE, which Republicans say is being pushed by House Democrats, has become a new hurdle to a deal.

Lawmakers still think a limited deal is possible, which would give Trump some funding for border barriers but less than the $5.7 billion he has requested. 

Several senior Senate Democrats told The Hill that a deal is close, and the substantive legislative issues aren’t that hard to resolve. 

But they say the battle of political wills between Trump and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet New postmaster general overhauls USPS leadership amid probe into mail delays MORE (D-Calif.) is a big obstacle.

Congressional leaders had hoped to keep the drama to a minimum by setting up a special Senate-House conference committee made up of appropriators who are used to negotiating bills together. 

That was intended to insulate the talks, which are being buffeted by larger political forces.  

Trump lashed out at Democrats on Monday for demanding to cap the number of beds used by ICE to detain immigrants in the country illegally — which has emerged as a key point in the new talks.

“The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!” the president tweeted. 

In a sign of waning hope for a deal, the White House on Monday signaled interest in a long-term stopgap continuing resolution (CR) for the seven unfinished spending bills. It received immediate support from House conservatives. 

“I would be supportive of a one-year CR for the remaining appropriation bills. I know the conversations are fluid and there is still hope that the conference committee will reach a satisfactory compromise,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet On The Money: Five takeaways from the July jobs report Overnight Health Care: Trump to take executive action after coronavirus talks collapse | Vaccine official says he'd resign if pressured politically MORE (R-N.C.).  

House Democrats immediately threatened to block the proposal, putting the Capitol on alert for another shutdown. 

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“Democrats cannot support a full-year CR for Homeland Security without significant anomalies. A so-called clean full-year CR for Homeland Security would allow the Trump administration to increase funding for both physical barriers and ICE detention beds,” said a House Democratic aide. 

In a leadership meeting Saturday, Democratic staff proposed capping the number of detention beds at 16,500 for those apprehended in the interior of the country and not at the border.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of “slipping a poison-pill demand into the conversations at the eleventh hour.”

“This would result in the release of thousands of criminal aliens and our inability to detain thousands more criminal aliens whom our federal and state law enforcement authorities will apprehend,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. 

ICE acting Deputy Director Matt Albence also pushed back at the demand, arguing the cap “will be extremely damaging to the public safety of this country.”

He estimated there are approximately 20,000 to 22,000 immigrants in custody, including many who have criminal convictions, and argued that “we will be immediately forced to release convicted criminals in our custody.”

Democratic negotiators presented an opening offer on Jan. 31 that included funding for an average daily population of 35,520 detainees. But it limited the average daily population in detention centers to 16,500 between the date of a possible deal’s enactment and the end of fiscal 2019. 

Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request asked for funding for 52,000 detention beds.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Former VA staffer charged with giving seven patients fatal insulin doses Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick MORE (R-W.Va.), a negotiator and the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security, said the Democratic proposal was “definitely coming from the House side” when asked whether Pelosi was behind the new demand.

More centrist Democratic senators have privately expressed concern that the debate over ICE detention beds could eclipse Trump’s border wall as the main sticking point — potentially to the detriment of Democrats, politically.

Another outstanding issue is a dispute over which immigrants should be defined as “criminals” and detained, according to a senior Democratic senator briefed on the talks. And that question is at the center of the fight over beds.

“ICE has become a big obstacle,” Shelby told reporters before meeting with the other negotiators Monday. “We need to resolve it this week if we can.”

Shelby, who has advocated for months in favor of passing the regular spending bills, didn’t show much enthusiasm for a long-term stopgap — though he notably did not rule it out.

“I don’t know anybody that wants a shutdown,” he said. “People don’t want one, but they might get one. I know McConnell doesn’t, I don’t. I don’t believe Schumer wants one,” he said of Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Charles Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.).

Lowey, the top House Democratic negotiator, said all options are on the table to avoid a shutdown, while Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor MORE (Texas), the senior House GOP negotiator, said Trump will have the final say on what Republicans will agree to. 

“The White House is letting us negotiate, the White House will make a decision on whether the president signs what we propose,” she said.

Looming over the talks is the possibility that Trump could declare a national emergency to build his wall on the border — and theoretically fund beds for ICE as well.

Some Republicans have urged Trump not to take that step, which they worry would set a bad precedent. But others have expressed support for the idea, keeping it alive.

Juliegrace Brufke, Jordain Carney and Jordan Fabian contributed.