WASHINGTON (AP) – Capitol Hill negotiators are hopeful of an agreement as they officially kick off talks on a homeland security spending bill that is trapped in a stalemate over President Donald Trump’s long-stalled border wall.
Left on their own, the seasoned House and Senate lawmakers say they could easily reach a border security deal as they have for two years in a row. But whether Trump would sign it is another matter altogether.
Trump has grown impatient and his demands on his United States (US)-Mexico border wall have become more insistent even though Democrats took back the House last fall. Democrats remain united against Trump’s vision for a massive wall project, yet some are signaling a willingness to deal in the wake of the 35-day partial government shutdown.
“We’ve consistently said that we do not support a medieval border wall from sea to shining sea,” said Representative Hakim Jeffries of New York, the number four House Democrat. “However, we are able to support fencing where it makes sense, but it should be done in an evidence-based fashion.”
“We’ve come to big agreements before,” said the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York. “What was the common theme? When the President stays out of the negotiations we almost always succeed. When he mixes in, it’s a formula for failure. So, I’d ask President Trump, ‘Let Congress deal with it on its own.’”
For their part, GOP leaders want to de-escalate the battle over the border wall and suggest they too could be flexible as bargainers seek a bipartisan agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, who pressured Trump last week to end the shutdown, warned the President against triggering another shutdown or declaring a national emergency on the Southwest boundary, a move that could let him redirect budget funds to building segments of the wall.
When asked to describe a border security agreement he’d support, McConnell said, “I’m for whatever works that would prevent the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month and also doesn’t bring about a view on the President’s part that he needs to declare a national emergency.”
A fresh, protracted crisis could make it difficult to tackle other upcoming business such as a deal to prevent automatic budget cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies.
The longest shutdown ever was initiated by Trump after Democrats refused his demand for USD5.7 billion to build segments of his border wall. Polls show people chiefly blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown and widely dislike the wall.
The President surrendered last Friday and agreed to reopen government for three weeks so negotiators can seek a border security deal, but with no commitments for wall funds.
House-Senate bargainers planned their first negotiating session yesterday.
Trump has retreated increasingly from “wall” as it became apparent that he lacked the votes in Congress to win taxpayer financing for the project, which he initially said would be financed by Mexico.