Trump, Pelosi re­main far apart on bor­der wall is­sue

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Alan Fram and An­drew Tay­lor

WASH­ING­TON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has de­clared that there’ll be no “wall money” in any com­pro­mise bor­der se­cu­rity deal as she and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sig­naled that con­gres­sional ne­go­tia­tors may never sat­isfy his de­mands for his cher­ished South­west bor­der pro­posal.

Trump, who in re­cent weeks has ex­pressed in­dif­fer­ence to whether the term “wall” or some­thing else is used, clung with re­newed tenac­ity to the word that be­came his cam­paign mantra, declar­ing, “A wall is a wall.” Yet in a se­ries of tweets and state­ments, he is­sued con­flict­ing mes­sages about what he’d need to de­clare vic­tory and sug­gested that merely re­pair­ing ex­ist­ing struc­tures along the bound­ary could be a ma­jor com­po­nent of a tri­umph.

Amid signs that Trump’s lever­age in Congress is at­ro­phy­ing, he seemed to aim one tweet at his con­ser­va­tive fol­low­ers. He wrote that Democrats “are not go­ing to give money to build the DES­PER­ATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you cov­ered. Wall is al­ready be­ing built, I don’t ex­pect much help!”

Pelosi, D-Calif., left the door open for an ac­cord that could fi­nance some bar­ri­ers, cit­ing what she said was al­ready ex­ist­ing “Nor­mandy fenc­ing” that blocks ve­hi­cles.

“If the pres­i­dent wants to call that a wall, he can call that a wall,” she told re­porters Thurs­day. She added: “Is there a place for en­hanced fenc­ing? Nor­mandy fenc­ing would work.”

Yet Pelosi’s other re­mark — “There’s not go­ing to be any wall money in the leg­is­la­tion” — un­der­scored the lin­guis­tic bat­tle un­der­way. It also showed that Democrats see no rea­son to let Trump claim a win in a cause that stirs his hard-right vot­ers and en­rages lib­er­als.

Trump’s po­lit­i­cal mus­cle weak­ened fol­low­ing Democrats’ cap­ture of House con­trol in the Novem­ber elec­tion. It waned fur­ther af­ter his sur­ren­der last week in end­ing a record 35-day par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down with­out get­ting a penny of the $5.7 bil­lion he’d de­manded to start build­ing the wall.

In an­other sign of his flag­ging hold over law­mak­ers, the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate backed leg­is­la­tion on a 68-23 vote Thurs­day that op­poses with­drawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

When Trump folded on the shut­down, he agreed to re­open gov­ern­ment un­til Feb. 15, giv­ing law­mak­ers more time to craft a bi­par­ti­san bor­der se­cu­rity com­pro­mise.

If there’s no deal by then, Trump has threat­ened to re­vive the shut­down or de­clare a na­tional emer­gency, which he claims would let him shift bil­lions from un­re­lated mil­i­tary con­struc­tion projects to erect­ing his wall. He crit­i­cized Democrats’ ne­go­ti­at­ing stance so far, telling re­porters in the Oval Of­fice that Pelosi is “just play­ing games” and say­ing GOP bar­gain­ers are “wast­ing their time.”

Democrats re­main united against those tac­tics. Repub­li­can op­po­si­tion seems nearly as strong, and GOP lead­ers are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly as­sertive about pub­licly tele­graph­ing those feel­ings to Trump.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told re­porters that “there are a lot of us that are try­ing to dis­suade” Trump from declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency should bor­der se­cu­rity talks dead­lock. Cornyn, a close ad­viser to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, said he has “ab­so­lute con­fi­dence” that such a dec­la­ra­tion would be chal­lenged in court, ty­ing up the money, and said Congress might even vote to defy him.

“The pres­i­dent needs to know that be­fore he heads down that path,” Cornyn said.

No. 2 Se­nate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota told re­porters that “a lot of folks are un­com­fort­able” with an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion. He stopped short of rul­ing out a chal­lenge by the Se­nate, call­ing the ques­tion “hy­po­thet­i­cal.”

Ear­lier this week, McCon­nell, R-Ky., a long­time op­po­nent of shut­downs, called the move “gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion which should be embarrassing to ev­ery­one on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis.”

Law­mak­ers cau­tion that if Trump de­clares an emer­gency, fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dents might do the same for is­sues they fa­vor that Congress derails. Some are re­luc­tant to cede Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional power to con­trol spend­ing to any pres­i­dent, and many say there is no real bor­der emer­gency.

Democrats of­fered fur­ther de­tails of their bor­der se­cu­rity plan Thurs­day, un­veil­ing a mea­sure that would pro­vide no wall funds.

It would sig­nif­i­cantly boost spend­ing for scan­ners at ports of en­try, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for ap­pre­hended mi­grants, and new air­craft and ships to po­lice the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. It would freeze the num­ber of bor­der pa­trol agents and block any wall con­struc­tion in wildlife refuges along the bor­der.

With­out a bor­der se­cu­rity ac­cord, law­mak­ers could avert an­other shut­down by once again tem­po­rar­ily fi­nanc­ing dozens of fed­eral agen­cies, per­haps for months.

Trump has been un­pre­dictable in the shut­down debate, mix­ing softer rhetoric about a mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach to bor­der se­cu­rity with cam­paign-style blus­ter about the wall. Law­mak­ers ne­go­ti­at­ing the bill are aware that he could quash an agree­ment at any time, plung­ing them back into cri­sis.

“Ob­vi­ously, it makes it more chal­leng­ing,” Cornyn told re­porters. “You keep talk­ing and try to un­der­stand where he is and try to work it out.”

/ AP-J. Scott Ap­ple­white

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks to re­porters dur­ing a news con­fer­ence a day af­ter a bi­par­ti­san group of House and Se­nate bar­gain­ers met to craft a bor­der se­cu­rity com­pro­mise aimed at avoid­ing an­other gov­ern­ment shut­down at the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day.

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