Dayton Daily News

Trump shows flexibilit­y on border wall deal

- Emily Cochrane and Annie Karni

Faced WASHINGTON — with limited options and a looming deadline to prevent another government shutdown, President Donald Trump is moving toward accepting a border-security deal that would fall well short of his once-firm demand for $5.7 billion in funds for a wall at the southweste­rn frontier.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate conferees were nearing an agreement that could offer the president between $1.3 billion and around $2 billion in funding for border security, a range, still subject to change, that could include some physical barriers and result in a deal as early as Monday. Talk of a wall has given way to “bollard fencing” and strategic placements.

“We’re 95 to 98 percent done,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriat­ions Committee.

Trump has told allies he would grudgingly accept a figure of around $2 billion, but House Democrats remain publicly opposed to spending that much on physical barriers. It is still not clear how much of the final allocation would go for new fencing, according to three people briefed on the negotiatio­ns.

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

The effort to find some final figure between the House Democrats’ $1.3 billion and a figure slightly higher than $2 billion marks an end game of sorts for highstakes negotiatio­ns aimed at making sure the government does not, once again, close down next weekend. The longest shutdown in American history, which stretched from December through most of January, left Trump’s approval ratings at new lows and exhausted lawmakers in both parties determined not to let the government close down again.

But the final agreement still has contentiou­s wrinkles to iron out.

While Democrats want as low a number as they can secure, members of the conservati­ve House Freedom Caucus, which had earlier pushed Trump to take an uncompromi­sing line on wall funding, met with him on Thursday and indicated that any number even slightly above $2 billion would satisfy them for now.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told senators at a party lunch and in private conversati­ons over the past few days that Trump had told him, “I can live with $2 billion,” according to a Senate aide who witnessed one of the exchanges.

Beyond those numbers, negotiator­s remain far apart on detention beds under the control of Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t to house families detained at the border with Mexico. Funds currently allocated are enough for 40,520 detention beds. Democrats asked to limit the number of beds to 35,520 for the remainder of the fiscal year and increase funds for other alternativ­es to the practice of family detention. Republican­s want substantia­lly more beds.

With disputes like that, Democratic aides on Friday downplayed the likelihood of a quick deal; their last official offer on funding for barriers was a little over $500 million — although privately they acknowledg­e they are likely to go higher.

Regardless of where the talks land, the funding levels under discussion mark another significan­t compromise for Trump as he struggles to fulfill his campaign promise that he would build a wall at the southweste­rn border. In December, he publicly dismissed a proposal for $2.5 billion as insufficie­nt, undercutti­ng Vice President Mike Pence, who had floated the prospect by Democrats.

Leahy, a member of the bipartisan House-Senate committee negotiatin­g the deal, declined to elaborate on specific numbers or what was left to negotiate, citing the need to keep the details of ongoing talks private.

“It’s easy to have the rhetoric about the border,” he said. “It’s the realism that’s difficult.”

Leahy said that he, along with staff and other members of the 17-member committee, planned to stay in town this weekend to negotiate the final details and prepare to sign off on it on Monday. Because of procedural rules in the House, it is seen as the last possible day for lawmakers to unveil a deal that would prevent a government shutdown ahead of the deadline.

Over the past several days, negotiator­s have begun discussing the potential placement of new barriers — some of it likely to be sturdy, steel slats known as bollard fencing — in specific locations on the border that have seen significan­t increases in illegal crossings, according to two Republican aides.

“The walls we saw were really heavy fences,” said Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriat­ions Committee, describing a trip to the border she took earlier this week. She told reporters that after speaking with border patrol agents, she would support bollard fencing on sections of the border.

“There’s no one that said we should put a solid wall across our southern border,” she said.

On Thursday, Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriat­ions Chairman, told fellow Republican­s that a one-on-one meeting with Trump in the Oval Office earlier in the week left him optimistic.

 ?? TAMIR KALIFA / THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? A group visits the border fence in Brownsvill­e, Texas. House and Senate conferees are indicating President Trump may be willing to accept $2 billion for his wall rather than the $5.7 billion he’d asked for.
TAMIR KALIFA / THE NEW YORK TIMES A group visits the border fence in Brownsvill­e, Texas. House and Senate conferees are indicating President Trump may be willing to accept $2 billion for his wall rather than the $5.7 billion he’d asked for.

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