Top Democrats are now signaling they’re open to some kind of enhanced physical barrier along the southern border, raising chances for a spending deal to avert another government shutdown next week.
Negotiators emerged Wednesday from a closed-door meeting with border experts to say they believe there is a role for additional fencing of some sort — though the details remain to be worked out.
“We can probably get there on some sort of enhanced barriers with local input,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat.
That’s a reversal from the last few weeks, when top negotiators had said they would not allow any money for new barriers to be included.
At the same time, Mr. Cuellar said there’s “no way” he would support the White House’s full request for $5.7 billion to construct 230 additional miles of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“Enhanced barriers, we can talk about that. We can talk about the 300 miles of vehicle barriers — put something stronger on that,” he said.
Negotiators on the 17-member committee working on a Homeland Security spending bill said the briefing wasn’t a game-changer, but that it was useful to hear directly from experts that a comprehensive approach to secure the border includes physical barriers, technology and proper personnel.
Democrats who are more interested in stopping illegal drugs than illegal immigration said their focus is still on adding new technology to the border crossings, which is where most hard drugs transit.
“It was clear to me and clear to most of us the highest priority is technology — get it in place at ports of entry,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “We can talk about barriers, fences, personnel beyond that, but let’s do what’s right to stop this drug epidemic in America.”
Republican negotiators who attended the briefing said the officials were clear in advocating for a comprehensive, “three-legged” approach involving barriers, technology and personnel.
“A really important point was that barriers are needed to direct a lot of this traffic to the ports of entry because they’re so successful there at the ports,” said Rep. Tom Graves, Georgia Republican. “So that’s a very important component to this entire process and discussion that was pointed out today.”
Negotiators say they’re trying to strike a deal by the end of the week to give the House and the Senate time to jump through procedural hoops and send something to President Trump’s desk by Feb. 15, the next funding deadline.
“I would say [we’ve] got a much better chance today than we had Monday to reach some kind of resolution to this,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican.
But the two wild cards in the equation are Mr. Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who have gotten off to an acrimonious start this year with their shutdown standoff that forced the delay of Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said she’s indicated to Mr. Shelby that she won’t interfere with the conference committee working on a deal — and she hopes the White House does the same.
“Left to their own devices, if they have a bipartisan agreement, I will support it,” Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday, after flatly declaring last week there would be no wall money in the package.
Mr. Trump may be a tougher sell. Senators thought they had a short-term spending deal late last year and thought they had the White House’s blessing, but the president withdrew support in the final days over his border wall demand, sending the government careening into the 35-day partial shutdown.
The administration has said Mr. Trump is willing to negotiate his $5.7 billion wall money request, but says he must have some cash for fencing.
Mr. Trump has said he could orchestrate another shutdown or declare a national emergency to get around Congress and build the wall if negotiators don’t come up with a package he likes.
Another wrinkle came late Wednesday when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, comprised of Democrats, released a letter urging the negotiators to reject anything that could be seen as boosting Mr. Trump’s “anti-immigrant agenda.”
That means resisting any new wall money, as well as refusing to approve the president’s request for more detention beds to hold immigrants awaiting deportation.
“Border walls and the associated hyper-militarization of the border region don’t make us safer,” the Hispanic Caucus said.
© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.