Dems signal flexibility at border meeting

Democrats on Wednesday strongly suggested they are open to a compromise with President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE even as they unveiled an initial proposal for securing the border that includes no physical barriers.

Democratic leaders emerged from a bipartisan budget meeting on border security taking a hard line on Trump’s proposed border wall, while hinting they were open to a deal.

“We will expand on the $1.6 billion for border security-related programs that House Democrats have already passed,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyGovernors air frustrations with Trump on unemployment plans It's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Helping our seniors before it's too late MORE (D-N.Y.) said at a conference committee meeting.

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She said smart border security would not be overly reliant on physical barriers but on better technology and more personnel, a phrasing that left open the possibility of barriers.

Lawmakers met Wednesday for the first time since the longest government shutdown in U.S. history to work out a deal on Homeland Security spending. Negotiators face a Feb. 15 deadline to get a new deal and prevent another shutdown.

In their opening bid, Democrats proposed strengthening border security by adding 1,000 new customs officers, funding new imaging technology to scan cars and trucks at ports of entry and boosting resources related to migrants being held in custody. Their proposal would also limit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds and focus on alternatives to ICE detention programs.

Lowey said she was “cautiously optimistic” about reaching a compromise, while Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the only member of the conference committee to represent a border district, also signaled a willingness to negotiate.

“Right now, I'm saying no wall,” he said, before adding that there were ways to reach a compromise on a border barrier that would allow both sides to claim a victory. He noted that the border currently features 654 miles of barriers, of which roughly 300 miles are not a wall, but a low-lying vehicle barrier. 

“Hint, hint, 300 miles of vehicle barriers,” Cuellar said. “There's ways to get where we need to get.”

Cuellar also predicted that the sides will have little problem reaching an agreement on the vast majority of border security provisions. It's just the wall — and the thorny politics surrounding it — that will be the sticking point, likely dragging the negotiations to the edge of the Feb. 15 funding deadline. 

“At the end it's going to be: What do we do about the barrier? And we can get a little creative at the end,” he said.

Republicans insisted that barriers were part of the solution, but spoke in terms of general barriers and emphasized the need for cost-effective measures.

“Our border patrol tells us that they need physical barriers to help them do their job. Not from coast to coast, but strategically placed where traffic is highest,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Wary 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 MORE (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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.), who heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, called for barriers “where they make sense.” 

Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesWin by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmaker says 'no place in Congress' for QAnon after supporter's primary win | Uber CEO says app could temporarily shutdown in California if ruling upheld | Federal agency warns hackers targeting small business loan program GOP lawmaker says there's 'no place in Congress' for QAnon after supporter's primary win MORE (R-Ga.) suggested that the final compromise could be found in face-saving measures that would allow both sides to declare victory. 

“I suspect we might have some discussions about terminology and words we use,” he said.

The question of how Trump would respond to a final agreement hung over the hearing.

Trump has suggested that the group has a small chance of success, and that he might resort to another shutdown or declare a state of emergency if he is not satisfied with the result.

“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!” Trump tweeted ahead of the meeting.

But appropriators seemed determine to soldier on with a compromise regardless of Trump’s position.

“The president wasn’t here today,” Lowey said.