Lawmakers from the House and Senate will meet for the first time Wednesday as they seek to work out a deal on border security that would prevent a second government shutdown this year.
The conference committee includes Democrats and Republicans with reputations for dealmaking, but the panel faces tough odds in seeking to build a compromise that could earn the support of President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.).
Trump himself on Wednesday appeared to give it little chance of success, even as he repeated his demands that Democrats fund a wall on the Mexican border.
“If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!” he wrote on Twitter.
At the same time, Trump’s inclusion of the term physical barrier could provide an opening for compromise.
While Democrats have been vociferously opposed to a concrete barrier, they have supported funds for some degree of fencing along the border.
The bipartisan Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which passed in committee 26-5 in June, included $1.6 billion in funds for 65 miles of new pedestrian fencing in the Rio Grand Valley.
“I’m confident that if it had been up to appropriators, there never would have been a shutdown,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLobbying world Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the meeting Wednesday.
Failure to reach a deal could lead to a renewed shutdown on Feb. 16 or pave the way for Trump to declare a state of emergency in an attempt to circumvent Congress — a possibility he has yet to rule out.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Blue Dog Democrat and a member of the conference committee, said House Democrats are entering the negotiations in hard-line opposition to funding the construction of new barriers of any kind.
“The bottom line is, my position is no,” Cuellar told several reporters in the Capitol, shortly before the start of the conference hearing.
Yet Cuellar, who represents a border district, also emphasized that the nature of negotiations is that both sides give and positions change.
“I'm saying no, but we're negotiators and we'll talk,” he said.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Hoyer tells Israel removal of Iron Dome funding is 'technical postponement' MORE (D-Md.) did not rule out the possibility that Democrats would accept some new fencing, though he predicted that a broader immigration deal — one including benefits for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and those with temporary protected status (TPS) — would not materialize in the course of the conference negotiations. He suggested Democrats would soon address those issues separately.
“I don't expect that to be part of the negotiation,” Hoyer said. “I expect to bring a bill on the floor on DACA and TPS in the near future.”
The shutdown that ended over the weekend was the longest in U.S. history and began on Dec. 22. It shuttered about a quarter of the federal government, leaving roughly 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay.
Polls suggest Trump received much more blame than Democrats for the shutdown after he said in a meeting with Democratic leaders in December at the White House that he would accept the mantle of blame for a shutdown triggered over the border.
Republicans have strongly signaled they want to prevent a second shutdown. And many Senate Republicans had hoped to avoid the first one.