Negotiators running out of time to get deal to prevent shutdown

Greg Nash

It’s crunch time for lawmakers seeking to reach a deal on securing the border that would prevent the second partial government shutdown of 2019.

Lawmakers warn they have just a matter of days to reach a deal that could then be considered by the House and Senate and signed by President Trump by their Feb. 15 deadline.

Without an agreement by then, about 25 percent of the government would again shut down.

{mosads}Negotiators say they face significant hurdles to reach a deal, including how much money to spend on physical barriers.

“I hope that we will do our job. Will we? That’s the question of the hour,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Some lawmakers already have given up on the soft deadline they had set for Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that a deal essentially needed to be in place by then to give Congress time to consider it.

Because of the House’s 72-hour rule, which requires that legislation be released three days before it receives a vote on the floor, congressional staff say Monday is the latest the group could finalize legislation without having to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to avoid either a partial government shutdown or Trump feeling empowered to declare a national emergency.

“I just don’t think we have enough time,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. “It’s just if the deadline is Friday it’s going to be very difficult,” she added, before expressing confidence that something would be done by Monday.

Staffers and lawmakers are expecting around-the-clock talks through the weekend, and there are signs of some behind-the-scenes progress.

Shelby spoke with Pelosi and Vice President Pence this week. On Wednesday, he described negotiations as down to the “substance” but with a “few more steps” to an agreement.

Members of the bipartisan conference committee were briefed by border officials for nearly two hours on Wednesday. Lawmakers emerged from the closed-door briefing largely in agreement that any deal needs to include personnel, technology and physical barriers.

“I feel like we’ve taken a step forward and are now ready to put the pencils on the papers and get back to work,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who heads the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called the meeting the “most optimistic yet, I think,” adding that it would be “great” if negotiators could get a deal done this week.

If negotiators are able to reach a deal, the sequence for getting it through the House, Senate and to the president’s desk is expected to come together quickly.

“Around here, once people get into an agreement, things can and do happen pretty fast so you know the closer you get to the last minute the more stress you put on the system,” said Blunt, who added that the system “is used to that kind of stress.”

Sticking points include funding for border barriers and detention beds, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). Democrats want to reduce the number of ICE beds to limit raids in undocumented communities.

Republicans say the sides must still negotiate on ports of entry, which has been a key priority for Democrats. Republicans say the sides must still negotiate on upgrading technology and increasing manpower at ports of entry, which has been a key priority for Democrats.

“The thing that I thought came through clearly is that the highest, No. 1 priority is not a wall, it’s technology,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) after the meeting.

The crisis, he said, was not migrants but drugs, 90 percent of which he said flowed through ports of entry. More technology could help border officials scan cars and trucks coming through the border, where only a fraction of vehicles are currently scanned.

Trump and Pelosi have cast long shadows over the talks.

In his State of the Union address, Trump urged Congress to secure the border and put “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers out of business.”

But the speech did little to move the needle, and his rhetoric on “caravans” sparked audible groans from Democrats.

Durbin said technology should be the focus of an agreement but noted that it was Trump’s concept of a wall that was controversial to Democrats.

“The president started off with some grandiose, concrete wall, sea to shining sea, paid for by Mexico and implanted that image in people’s mind,” Durbin said. “[But] it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we’re going build some more fencing in some place.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he hoped negotiators could get a deal, but if they do, he is not confident the president will support it.

“I certainly hope the president of the United States would agree with the product,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “Am I sure of that? No. Why? Because he’s changed his mind.”

Trump caught lawmakers off guard in December when he refused to support a Senate-passed CR because it didn’t include extra money for the wall.

Senate Republicans have been wary of getting too far afield of Trump on the wall, which remains popular with the party’s base.

But in a shift, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) are urging the panel to reach an agreement without a guarantee Trump will back it.

Shelby said Pence has indicated that Trump hasn’t given up on the talks.

Trump has signaled that he could declare a national emergency to build the wall without an appropriation from Congress, but Shelby said that Pence had indicated the president wants a “legislative solution, rather than go through executive powers” and isn’t “taking things off the board yet” about what shouldn’t be in a final agreement.

Pelosi said she urged Pence, who sat next to her during Tuesday’s State of the Union, to keep the White House from interfering in the border security talks.

“I spoke to the Vice President and I told him that I hope that the White House will have the same hands-off policy as I have vis-a-vis the appropriators. Let them come to their own conclusion,” Pelosi said.

“I spoke with Sen. Shelby I told him whatever you all come to agreement on, bipartisan agreement, I will support,” Pelosi said. “I hope that the administration would have the same attitude and respect for the appropriations process.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.

Tags Appropriations Border wall Budget Dick Durbin Donald Trump Government shutdown John Thune Kay Granger Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Richard Shelby Roy Blunt Shelley Moore Capito Shutdown Steny Hoyer

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