The next battle over the border wall: 19 days to strike an immigration deal
rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The longest-ever government shutdown is over but federal employees returning to work Monday faced the possibility of another one in just 19 days — unless congressional negotiators can find a politically acceptable solution.
Both parties in both chambers have appointed lawmakers to a new bipartisan 17-member conference committee on border security, called for as part of the “deal” announced Friday, but the panel won’t hold its first meeting until Wednesday – so, there’s essentially just 17 days on the clock to generate an agreement that could avoid another shutdown.
After meeting Wednesday, when lawmakers are expected to do little beyond exchange introductions, Congress will recess until next Tuesday – illustrating how quickly a congressional calendar can evaporate and deadlines that seem far off can sneak up on Capitol Hill.
The burning question inside the Capitol as lawmakers return to work Monday is whether there’s any room at all for a compromise on the central question in any immigration deal: President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. At this stage, even with a new deadline looming, both sides appear to remain at the same impasse that led to the record-breaking 35-day shutdown.
Basking in the glory of her first major legislative victory since reclaiming the speaker’s gavel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she has “no complaint” about the length of the negotiating period – but she also showed no sign of backing off Democratic resistance to any new physical barriers along the border.
“We asked the President to open up government so we would have time to have debate on the best way to protect our border,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Friday night as she signed off on legislation to reopen government until Feb. 15. “Democrats are committed to border security and we think we have some better ideas about how to do so, that protects our borders, honor our values and are cost-effective.”
Just a majority vote is needed to advance a conference report to a full vote in the House and Senate, and Democrats enjoy a 9-8 edge on the panel’s membership, putting the prospects of a border wall out of reach in these negotiations.
By ending the shutdown, President Trump ostensibly signaled a reluctance to shut down the government again. But when the president announced an agreement to reopen government on Friday, he again threatened to exercise executive power to declare a national emergency at the border and redirect funding from other projects to construction of a physical barrier – if negotiators fail to strike an agreement.
“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said Friday. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency. We will have great security.”
While some Republicans are urging Trump to accept a compromise with less than $5.7 billion for the wall, Democrats remain steadfast in their insistence that no money is appropriated for construction of a physical barrier in areas where there’s currently no walls or fencing.
Over the weekend, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney convened a weekend retreat with six Republican senators at Camp David, Maryland. Two GOP sources said that the president also phoned into the meeting.
A source familiar with the retreat said that Republicans and the president could strive to expand the discussions into a “larger negotiation” – closer to the four pillars of immigration reform that the president sought a year ago.
Democrats have expressed a willingness to beef up border security, even rebuilding physical barriers in areas they already exist – but have drawn the line at extending the wall in new areas.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he’s pessimistic the conference committee will produce a deal he could support, placing the odds at “less than 50-50” while adding that he doubts he could accept less than $5.7 billion for new border wall.
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