Dayton Daily News
Trump shows flexibility on border wall deal
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.