Talks to keep govern­ment open fal­ter over im­mi­gra­tion

Pos­si­bil­ity of re­newed shut­down at week­end looms

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica Werner and Damian Paletta

WASHINGTON — The na­tion faces the real pos­si­bil­ity of another govern­ment shut­down Fri­day at mid­night, as bi­par­ti­san talks aimed at avert­ing that out­come broke down in a dis­pute over im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, law­mak­ers and aides said Sun­day.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall de­mands, which pre­cip­i­tated the record­long 35-day shut­down that ended late last month, were a sec­ondary is­sue in the im­passe that de­vel­oped over the week­end, ac­cord­ing to law­mak­ers and aides in both par­ties.

In­stead ne­go­ti­a­tions col­lapsed over Democrats’ in­sis­tence on lim­it­ing the num­ber of unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants who can be de­tained by the U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency. The break­down in talks made it un­likely that law­mak­ers will be able to fi­nal­ize an agree­ment to­day, as they had hoped to do so it could pass the House and Sen­ate be­fore Fri­day night’s dead­line.

“I think the talks are stalled right now,” Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Shelby of Alabama, the lead Repub­li­can ne­go­tia­tor, said on Fox News Sun­day. “I’m not con­fi­dent we’re go­ing to get there.”

The stale­mate left the path for­ward to keep­ing the govern­ment open un­clear. It was un­clear when or if for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions will re­sume.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity, State, Agri­cul­ture and Com­merce de­part­ments and a num­ber of other fed­eral agen­cies are

cur­rently op­er­at­ing on a stop­gap spend­ing bill that Trump signed Jan. 25. There’s lit­tle ap­petite for another short-term fund­ing ex­ten­sion, but with­out some ac­tion by mid­night on Feb. 15, those agen­cies will run out of money and be­gin to shut down again.

The pres­i­dent, who is hold­ing a rally in El Paso, Texas, tonight that’s likely to fo­cus on his de­mands for more bor­der se­cu­rity, re­ferred to the dis­agree­ment in a tweet on Sun­day. “I don’t think the Dems on the Bor­der Com­mit­tee are be­ing al­lowed by their lead­ers to make a deal. They are of­fer­ing very lit­tle money for the des­per­ately needed Bor­der Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on con­victed vi­o­lent felons to be held in de­ten­tion!” the pres­i­dent wrote.

Law­mak­ers had been trad­ing of­fers over how much money could go to bar­ri­ers along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, and were look­ing at a range be­tween $1.3 bil­lion and $2 bil­lion, far short of the $5.7 bil­lion Trump had de­manded. The White House had be­gun to sig­nal flex­i­bil­ity on that is­sue, even though Trump would end up with much less money than he sought, and the en­hanced fenc­ing or other bar­ri­ers agreed to by Con­gress would fall short of the 200-plus miles of steel walls he’d wanted.

But through­out the talks, Democrats had also been fo­cused on lim­it­ing ICE’s abil­ity to de­tain unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants, which has be­come a ma­jor is­sue for the party be­cause of their op­po­si­tion to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ag­gres­sive de­ten­tion tac­tics. The Democrats’ pro­posal in­cluded a new limit on de­ten­tion beds for im­mi­grants picked up not at the bor­der, but in the in­te­rior of the coun­try.

Democrats wanted to cap that num­ber at 16,500, which they said is around the level of in­te­rior de­ten­tions in the fi­nal years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Repub­li­cans pro­posed ex­clud­ing im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records from the cap. But Democrats said that would make the cap tooth­less, be­cause it would amount to giv­ing ICE free rein to round up thou­sands of im­mi­grants with­out crim­i­nal records, on top of un­lim­ited num­bers of im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions.

On MSNBC Sun­day af­ter­noon, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., de­fended the Demo­cratic po­si­tion on bed space and ac­cused Repub­li­cans of mis­rep­re­sent­ing the facts. “This news came from Repub­li­cans who have de­cided that their nar­ra­tive is go­ing to be that we’re try­ing to re­duce beds for vi­o­lent crim­i­nals, and that’s just not true,” Hill said.

Democrats, newly in con­trol of the House, have faced pres­sure from some lib­er­als in their ranks to draw a much harder line in their ne­go­ti­a­tions over the bor­der. Lib­er­als in­clud­ing Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have pro­posed en­tirely cut­ting fund­ing to ICE, and re­fus­ing any ad­di­tional money for bor­der bar­ri­ers what­so­ever.

Democrats on the bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee have re­sisted those de­mands. But Repub­li­cans quickly seized on the new dis­pute over de­ten­tion beds to try to lump all Democrats in with the most lib­eral el­e­ments in the party.

“Now, ap­par­ently, not only is it enough they want to abol­ish ICE. They want to abol­ish the bed spa­ces avail­able to the coun­try to house vi­o­lent of­fend­ers, so they can be held and de­ported,” Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Chan­nel. “I prom­ise you this. Don­ald Trump is not go­ing to sign any bill that re­duces the num­ber of bed spa­ces avail­able to hold vi­o­lent of­fend­ers who come across our bor­der. He can’t do that. He won’t do that, and you can take that to the bank.”

The fight over how many im­mi­grants can be de­tained at once be­came ex­tremely prob­lem­atic in re­cent days, just as the White House be­gan sig­nal­ing to ne­go­tia­tors that it would be more flex­i­ble on how much money Con­gress ap­pro­pri­ated for a wall along the Mex­ico bor­der.

White House of­fi­cials have be­come in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent that by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency, Trump will be able to re­di­rect bil­lions of dol­lars in other fed­eral fund­ing to be used for a wall or bar­ri­ers. One sce­nario they had pre­pared for was for Con­gress to pass a bill ap­pro­pri­at­ing some money for bor­der se­cu­rity and then use the na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion to loosen even more funds.

This could draw le­gal chal­lenges from Democrats, landown­ers and other groups, but White House of­fi­cials and some ex­ter­nal ad­vis­ers have said it was the best way to pro­ceed.

A to­tal break­down in talks poses a new set of chal­lenges, how­ever. It dra­mat­i­cally in­creases the odds of another par­tial govern­ment shut­down be­gin­ning Satur­day. This would pre­vent roughly 800,000 fed­eral work­ers from be­ing paid in­def­i­nitely.

Dur­ing the last shut­down, which be­gan Dec. 22, the White House re­lied on hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees to con­tinue com­ing to work un­paid for more than a month in or­der for key govern­ment ser­vices to con­tinue, in­clud­ing Bor­der Pa­trol agents, Se­cret Ser­vice of­fi­cers, air­port screen­ers, and air traf­fic con­trollers.

Many of the fed­eral em­ploy­ees, how­ever, re­fused to show up for work and called in sick, in­clud­ing air­port screen­ers and In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice of­fi­cers, and it’s un­clear what they would do if there’s another shut­down. The IRS is in the midst of tax-fil­ing sea­son, and a ma­jor dis­rup­tion could have huge im­pli­ca­tions for the abil­ity of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to ob­tain tax re­funds in a timely fash­ion.

Though the odds of a govern­ment shut­down have in­creased markedly in the past 24 hours, ne­go­tia­tors have not said for cer­tain that one will oc­cur. That’s be­cause even though there is less than one week left to com­plete a deal, they still have time to work some­thing out, and of­ten dead­lines force leg­is­la­tors to com­pro­mise.

In the run-up to the last govern­ment shut­down, the odds of an im­passe spiked markedly on the Sun­day be­fore the dead­line, and then ap­peared to soften by Tues­day, when the White House walked back its de­mands.

On Dec. 19, Repub­li­cans felt con­fi­dent that Trump would not lead them into a shut­down and unan­i­mously agreed to a short-term fund­ing bill. But by that night, Trump sig­naled to law­mak­ers that he would not sup­port the agree­ment, and two days later they hit the dead­line with­out an agree­ment.

“There are bumps in the road, but as long as we stay fo­cused in a bi­par­ti­san way, bi­cam­eral way, to get this done, I’m hope­ful we­can get it done. Is it a done deal? Noit isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck, it’s hap­pened be­fore,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., one of the ne­go­tia­tors, said on Fox News Sun­day. “But I don’t think any­body has an ap­petite for a govern­ment shut­down, and I think every­body wants to make sure our bor­ders are se­cure.”


Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Repub­li­can on the bi­par­ti­san group work­ing to craft a bor­der se­cu­rity com­pro­mise, says that “talks are stalled right now.”

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