Re­vived bud­get talks lead to ten­ta­tive deal

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WASH­ING­TON — Con­gres­sional ne­go­tia­tors an­nounced an agree­ment late Mon­day to pre­vent a gov­ern­ment shut­down and fi­nance con­struc­tion of new bar­ri­ers along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, over­com­ing a late-stage hang-up over im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment is­sues that had threat­ened to scut­tle the talks.

Repub­li­cans were des­per­ate to avoid an­other bruis­ing shut­down. They ten­ta­tively agreed to far less money for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall than the White House’s $5.7 bil­lion wish, set­tling for a fig­ure of about $1.4 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior con­gres­sional aide.

“We reached an agree­ment in prin­ci­ple,” said Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ap­pear­ing with a bi­par­ti­san group of House and Se­nate law­mak­ers who con­curred.

“Our staffs are just work­ing out the de­tails,” said House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The agree­ment means 55 miles of new fenc­ing — con­structed through ex­ist­ing de­signs such as metal slats in­stead of a con­crete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House de­manded in De­cem­ber. The fenc­ing would be built in the Rio Grande Val­ley in Texas.

“With the gov­ern­ment be­ing shut down, the specter of an­other shut­down this close, what brought us back to­gether I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to hap­pen” again, Shelby said.

De­tails won’t be of­fi­cially re­leased un­til to­day, but the pact came in time to al­le­vi­ate any threat of a sec­ond par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down this week­end.

Shelby had ear­lier pulled the plug on the talks over Demo­cratic de­mands to limit im­mi­grant de­ten­tions by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties, but Democrats yielded ground on that is­sue in a fresh round of talks on Mon­day.

Asked if Trump would back the deal, Shelby said, “We be­lieve from our deal­ings with them and the lat­i­tude they’ve given us, they will sup­port it. We cer­tainly hope so.”

White House of­fi­cials and law­mak­ers viewed Mon­day’s meet­ing as a piv­otal junc­ture that could de­ter­mine whether more than a dozen fed­eral agen­cies re­main op­er­at­ing in five days.

Trump at­tempted to put the onus on Democrats to bro­ker a deal. Asked by re­porters Mon­day if the gov­ern­ment would shut down again on Satur­day, he re­sponded “that’s up to the Democrats.”

Law­mak­ers had hoped to reach an agree­ment by mid­day Mon­day, a time­line they thought was suf­fi­cient to win House and Se­nate ap­proval this week. But talks broke down over the week­end, lead­ing to ac­ri­mo­nious fin­ger-point­ing and an­gry out­bursts from the White House.

To avert a par­tial shut­down set to be­gin Satur­day, the House and Se­nate must pass iden­ti­cal spend­ing bills that Trump would then need to sign into law.

If no deal emerges, law­mak­ers and the White House would have to find some other way to keep the gov­ern­ment open. One op­tion un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would be to pass a pack­age of full-year spend­ing bills for all im­pacted gov­ern­ment agen­cies ex­cept the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, which could then po­ten­tially be funded on a short-term ba­sis, ac­cord­ing to two of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions.

The White House is open to that ap­proach, and Lowey said Democrats could be open to it if nec­es­sary. The of­fi­cials spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

DE­TEN­TION LIM­ITS

Peo­ple in­volved in the talks say Democrats have pro­posed lim­it­ing the num­ber of im­mi­grants in the U.S. il­le­gally who are caught in­side the U.S. — not at the bor­der — that the agency can de­tain. Repub­li­cans say they don’t want that cap to ap­ply to im­mi­grants caught com­mit­ting crimes, but Democrats do.

Ne­go­tia­tors re­fer to this cap as rep­re­sent­ing the num­ber of “beds” that the gov­ern­ment can use for de­ten­tions.

“ICE is be­ing asked to ig­nore the laws that Congress has al­ready passed,” said Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment Deputy Di­rec­tor Matt Al­bence on a me­dia call or­ga­nized by the White House. “It will be ex­tremely dam­ag­ing to the pub­lic safety of this coun­try. If we are forced to live within a cap based on in­te­rior ar­rests we will im­me­di­ately

be forced to re­lease crim­i­nal aliens that are cur­rently sit­ting in our cus­tody.”

Democrats say they pro­posed their cap to force Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment to con­cen­trate its in­ter­nal en­force­ment ef­forts on dan­ger­ous im­mi­grants, not those who lack le­gal au­thor­ity to be in the coun­try but are pro­duc­tive and oth­er­wise pose no threat. Democrats have pro­posed re­duc­ing the cur­rent num­ber of beds the agency uses to de­tain im­mi­grants here il­le­gally from 40,520 to 35,520.

But within that limit, they’ve also pro­posed lim­it­ing to 16,500 the num­ber for im­mi­grants here il­le­gally caught within the U.S., in­clud­ing crim­i­nals. Repub­li­cans want no caps on the num­ber of im­mi­grants who’ve com­mit­ted crimes who can be held by Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

Repub­li­cans went on the at­tack Mon­day over Democrats’ de­mands, which McCon­nell called an “ab­surd last-minute poi­son pill” and “a get-out-of­jail-free card for crim­i­nals be­cause the rad­i­cal left doesn’t like U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.”

“This pro­vi­sion would rightly be a to­tal non-starter for the White House,” McCon­nell said on the Se­nate floor.

But Democrats have said the Repub­li­can de­scrip­tions mis­char­ac­ter­ize their po­si­tion. They said the White House’s in­sis­tence on ex­clud­ing peo­ple charged or con­victed of crimes, even non­vi­o­lent drug of­fenses, would give the White House al­most lim­it­less power to de­tain peo­ple and make ex­ist­ing rules ir­rel­e­vant.

“How the gov­ern­ment deals with ICE is a very im­por­tant is­sue,” Lowey said. “And that’s why the beds are so crit­i­cal to this ne­go­ti­a­tion. Pe­riod.”

Law­mak­ers fre­quently run up against dead­lines to pass spend­ing bills, but it’s un­clear whether they can rely on the most com­monly used fall­back plans this time. Of­ten, law­mak­ers will seek to pass short-term spend­ing bills that last for sev­eral weeks in or­der to buy more time for ne­go­ti­a­tions. But they have al­ready done that sev­eral times in re­cent months, and it’s un­cer­tain whether they would take that step again.

The pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers have sug­gested that Trump could use ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to di­vert money from the fed­eral bud­get for wall con­struc­tion, though it was un­clear if he would face chal­lenges in Congress or the courts. One pro­vi­sion of the law lets the De­fense Depart­ment pro­vide sup­port for coun­ter­drug ac­tiv­i­ties.

But declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency re­mained an op­tion, White House act­ing Chief of Staff Mick Mul­vaney said, even though many in the ad­min­is­tra­tion have cooled on the prospect. A num­ber of pow­er­ful Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing McCon­nell, have also warned against the move, be­liev­ing it usurps power from Congress and could set a prece­dent for a fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dent to de­clare an emer­gency for a lib­eral po­lit­i­cal cause.

White House of­fi­cials have said they would give the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions a chance to suc­ceed be­fore mov­ing for­ward with their plan, but they haven’t re­vealed an open­ness to de­lay­ing any longer.

Un­like with the fight over the bor­der wall, which a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans op­pose, Repub­li­cans say they are on strong po­lit­i­cal ground if the fight be­comes cen­tered on whether Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment has free rein to de­tain con­victed or sus­pected crim­i­nals.

“The wall is un­pop­u­lar. En­forc­ing the law is pop­u­lar,” said Michael Steel, a GOP strate­gist and for­mer top House aide. “This is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult ter­rain for Democrats to fight on. I think that most peo­ple want the laws en­forced, and they ex­pect that if il­le­gal im­mi­grants break the law, that they will be de­tained.”

A num­ber of fed­eral de­part­ments are only funded through Fri­day, and law­mak­ers are try­ing to agree on a long-term spend­ing bill that would en­sure these de­part­ments have money through Septem­ber.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions have largely cen­tered on spend­ing and rules for the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. Trump has said rules must be over­hauled to stop peo­ple from en­ter­ing the U.S. il­le­gally from Mex­ico. He wants a wall and other rule changes.

Dur­ing the last gov­ern­ment shut­down, which be­gan Dec. 22 and lasted 35 days, 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees went with­out pay. Many of them were still or­dered to work, with­out pay, for the du­ra­tion of the shut­down, in or­der to min­i­mize the im­pact on the pub­lic.

FAM­I­LIES SUE

Eight im­mi­grant fam­i­lies who were sep­a­rated un­der Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy filed claims Mon­day seek­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in dam­ages for what a lawyer called “in­ex­pli­ca­ble cru­elty” that did last­ing dam­age to par­ents and chil­dren.

The par­ents ac­cused im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers of tak­ing their chil­dren away with­out giv­ing them in­for­ma­tion and some­times mock­ing them or deny­ing them a chance to say goodbye. One Gu­atemalan woman al­leged that an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer said her 5-year-old son would be taken, then taunted, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

The claims al­lege that many chil­dren re­main trau­ma­tized even af­ter be­ing re­united with their par­ents, in­clud­ing a 7-yearold girl who won’t sleep with­out her mother and a 6-year-old boy who is re­luc­tant to eat.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­knowl­edged it sep­a­rated more than 2,000 fam­i­lies last year through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy in­tended to crack down on Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­gra­tion at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. Gov­ern­ment watch­dogs have also said it’s un­clear how many fam­i­lies were sep­a­rated in to­tal be­cause agen­cies did not keep good enough records as the pol­icy was im­ple­mented.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Erica Werner, Damian Paletta, Sean Sul­li­van and Seung Min Kim of The Wash­ing­ton Post; and by Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram, Cather­ine Lucey, Hope Yen, An­drew Tay­lor, Lisa Mas­caro, Julie Walker and No­maan Mer­chant of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP/ERIC GAY

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a rally at the El Paso County Coli­seum, on Mon­day in El Paso, Texas.

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