Likely deal would cut into wall

White House hints it will ac­cept less than $5.7B sought

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Alan Fram and An­drew Tay­lor

WASH­ING­TON — Con­gres­sional bar­gain­ers are work­ing to­ward a border se­cu­rity deal amid in­di­ca­tions that the White House is pre­par­ing to ac­cept a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment that would give Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a frac­tion of the money he’s de­manded for his pro­posed south­ern border wall.

Par­tic­i­pants said they ex­pect money for phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers to end up well be­low the $5.7 bil­lion that Trump has sought to be­gin con­struc­tion of the wall, which has at­tained iconic sig­nif­i­cance for him and his con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers. Un­der­scor­ing the clout he’s lost dur­ing a bat­tle that’s dom­i­nated the open­ing weeks of di­vided gov­ern­ment, the amount seems sure to fall much closer to $1.6 bil­lion, the par­tic­i­pants said, a fig­ure that was in a bi­par­ti­san Se­nate bill last year.

“That’s what we’re work­ing to­ward,” said Rep. Lu­cille Roy­bal-Al­lard, D-Calif., one bar­gainer.

An agree­ment would also avert a new par­tial fed­eral shut­down later this week. Trump has warned he might trig­ger a new clo­sure of agen­cies if he doesn’t get his way, but that threat has be­come tooth­less be­cause of solid op­po­si­tion from GOP law­mak­ers burned by the record 35-day clo­sure that he ini­ti­ated in De­cem­ber.

One White House aide said Trump was ex­pected to back what­ever com­pro­mise emerges and ac­knowl­edged there is no will among con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans for an­other shut­down. The aide spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Cou­pled with a wide­spread ex­pec­ta­tion that the agree­ment would not use the term “wall,” the pact would rep­re­sent a re­treat for Trump, for whom “Build the wall!” has been a bat­tle cry since his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Democrats seemed to draw a firm line on spend­ing.

“Through­out the talks, Democrats have in­sisted that a border se­cu­rity com­pro­mise not be overly re­liant on phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers,” said Evan Hol­lan­der, spokesman for Democrats who con­trol the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “We will not agree to $2 bil­lion in fund­ing for bar­ri­ers.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo, RMiss., a Repub­li­can mem­ber of the House-Se­nate panel hold­ing the talks, said he ex­pects a deal “be­fore the end of the week­end” that could be fi­nal­ized Mon­day.

An­other Repub­li­can on the ne­go­ti­at­ing panel, Rep. Chuck Fleis­chmann of Tennessee, said the party wants as much bar­rier fund­ing as pos­si­ble, and that he hopes the fi­nal amount is above $2 bil­lion. But Hol­lan­der said Democrats want the fig­ure to be less than $2 bil­lion.

Even so, Fleis­chman said chances of a gov­ern­ment shut­down trig­gered by an im­passe are “next to nil.”

In an­other sig­nal that Trump was re­luc­tantly pre­par­ing to give ground, the White House has been con­sid­er­ing ac­cept­ing the deal but also us­ing ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion to se­cure ad­di­tional bar­rier fund­ing with­out law­mak­ers’ ap­proval. That plan was de­scribed by two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with White House think­ing who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

De­pend­ing on what Trump does, such an ac­tion could spark law­suits or con­gres­sional votes of dis­ap­proval.

Trump sup­port­ers have said there are other ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers Trump could use to di­vert money from the bud­get to wall con­struc­tion, though it was un­clear if they would face chal­lenges in Con­gress or the courts. One pro­vi­sion of the law lets the De­fense Depart­ment pro­vide sup­port for counter-drug ac­tiv­i­ties.

Be­sides the dol­lar fig­ure, talks were fo­cus­ing on the type and lo­ca­tion of bar­ri­ers, par­tic­i­pants said. Also in play were the num­ber of beds the fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency could have for de­tained mi­grants and the amount of aid in­cluded for nat­u­ral dis­as­ter re­lief.

Money for high-tech sur­veil­lance equip­ment and more per­son­nel was also ex­pected to be in­cluded.

No one ruled out last­minute prob­lems, es­pe­cially with Trump’s pen­chant for head-snap­ping turn­abouts.

But the mo­men­tum was clearly to­ward clinch­ing an agree­ment that Con­gress could pass by next Fri­day. The next day, many gov­ern­ment agen­cies would run out of money and have to close again with­out a deal.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows, RN.C., who leads the hardright House Free­dom Cau­cus, said he spoke Thurs­day night to Trump, who he said was in “wait and see” mode. Mead­ows said he ex­pects an agree­ment to pro­vide an amount closer to $1.6 bil­lion.

“I’m not op­ti­mistic it’ll be some­thing the pres­i­dent can sup­port,” Mead­ows said.

A con­ser­va­tive House GOP aide said Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers wanted at least $2 bil­lion for bar­ri­ers and no re­stric­tions on new con­struc­tion, land ac­qui­si­tion or new types of bar­ri­ers that could be built.

The aide also said the agree­ment need not con­tain the term “wall,” a word that Trump has lately al­ter­nated be­tween em­brac­ing and aban­don­ing. The aide spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe pri­vate talks.

If there is a bi­par­ti­san deal, there would likely be enough votes to pass it with­out the most con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans or the most lib­eral Democrats.


Repub­li­can sup­port­ers make a hu­man bar­rier Satur­day near Sun­land Park, N.M., as they voice their sup­port for a wall at the Mex­ico border. GOP and Demo­cratic ne­go­tia­tors are work­ing on a border wall deal to avert a new par­tial shut­down.

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