Lawmakers scramble to avoid shutdown
Friday deadline looms after weekend funding negotiations break down
WASHINGTON – Top lawmakers struggled Monday afternoon to find a compromise after government funding negotiations broke down over the weekend.
They seek a way out of an impasse over border security and internal enforcement four days before parts of the government are set to shut down again, absent a deal.
As Congress races against a Friday deadline to strike an agreement or risk another government shutdown, President Donald Trump headed to El Paso for a political rally – his first since the November midterm election. Trump accused Democrats of acting “irrationally” on border security in a tweet over the weekend.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and the top Republican on the committee, Kay Granger of Texas, huddled with Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and top Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Leahy was asked whether the group made progress as he left the meeting in the Capitol on Monday. “We’re all happy to meet at 6 – that’s progress,” the Vermont senator said.
“We’re trying to discuss seriously some obstacles to an agreement,” Shelby said as he walked from the meeting to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Capitol office. He said he couldn’t tell if they were any closer to a deal.
The group is part of a bipartisan, bicameral committee of appropriators selected to find a solution that can pass Congress and get support from the president before some of the government’s funding lapses Friday at midnight.
“I don’t think Democrats or Republi- cans want a shutdown. One option or another, we will resolve this,” Lowey said after the meeting.
Until this weekend, the biggest sticking point for the group had been how to deal with the president’s demand for a $5.7 billion wall along the southern border. During the last shutdown, Democrats refused to give him the money, saying the wall would be costly and ineffective.
Last week, they explored a compromise involving some sort of structure, though the figures discussed were far less than Trump’s initial request.
“I think that we expect that if the evidence supports the notion for enhanced fencing moving forward, that we will find some bipartisan consensus,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said last week.
“I think the talks are stalled right now,” Shelby said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that the disagreement centered on Democrats’ demands for a cap on detentions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“I will say 50/50 we get a deal,” he said. “I hope and pray we do.”
Democrats said ICE detains more immigrants than it needs to, imprisoning those who don’t have criminal backgrounds and pose no threat to national or domestic security. That’s why they want to set a hard cap on the number of immigrants ICE detains, the goal being to force the agency to focus its resources on violent criminals.
“This agency needs checks and balances, so the Republicans want to get more wall money and Democrats want to get controls on ICE. This is what a negotiation looks like,” said Kerri Talbot of the advocacy group Immigration Hub.
Republicans said a detention cap would force the release of undocumented immigrants in custody and warned of the risk that many might not show up for scheduled hearings on whether they should be deported.
Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE, said a cap on ICE detainees would be “damaging to public safety.”
“We will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens sitting in our custody” if the cap is put in place, Albence said.
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump accused the Democrats of a brand new demand, and he told reporters ICE was “very disrespected by the Democrats.”
Later in the morning, on the Senate floor, McConnell piled on, accusing Democrats of “a poison-pill demand” at “the 11th hour.”
Lowey expressed surprise at McConnell’s comments Monday afternoon: “I’ve worked with Mitch McConnell, and we’ve accomplished a lot together. I’m sorry that is his interpretation of where things are.”
House Democrats pointed out that the 16,500 cap on ICE beds has been part of the Democrats’ proposal since it was first included in their opening offer Jan. 31.
“I think the talks are stalled right now. I will say 50/50 we get a deal. I hope and pray we do.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, from left, Rep. Nita Lowey, Rep. Kay Granger and Sen. Patrick Leahy are leading negotiations aimed at finding a way out of a budget impasse centered on border security and internal enforcement.