Congressional bargainers are working toward a border security deal amid indications that the White House is preparing to accept a bipartisan agreement that would give President Donald Trump a fraction of the money he’s demanded for his proposed southern border wall.
Participants said they expect money for physical barriers to end up well below the $5.7 billion that Trump has sought to begin construction of the wall.
The amount seems sure to fall much closer to $1.6 billion, the participants said, a figure that was in a bipartisan Senate bill last year.
“That’s what we’re working toward,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., one bargainer.
An agreement would avert a new partial federal shutdown next weekend.
The president has warned he might trigger a new closure of agencies if the wall isn’t funded, but GOP lawmakers aren’t likely to go along after facing a backlash from the closure that started in December.
One White House aide said Trump was expected to back whatever compromise emerges. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said there is no will among congressional Republicans for another shutdown.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he spoke Thursday night to Trump, who he said was in “wait and see” mode. Meadows said he expects the agreement to provide about $1.6 billion.
“I’m not optimistic it’ll be something the president can support,” he said.
Accepting such an agreement would represent a significant retreat for Trump, for whom “Build the wall!” has been a battle cry since his presidential campaign.
Democrats seemed to draw a firm line on funding any kind of border wall.
“Throughout the talks, Democrats have insisted that a border security compromise not be overly reliant on physical barriers,” said Evan Hollander, spokesman for Democrats who control the House Appropriations Committee. “We will not agree to $2 billion in funding for barriers.”
In another signal that Trump was reluctantly preparing to give ground, the White House has been considering accepting the deal but also using executive action to secure additional barrier funding without lawmakers’ approval. That plan was described by two people familiar with White House thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Depending on what the president does, such an action could spark lawsuits or congressional votes of disapproval.
Trump supporters have said there are other executive powers the president could use to divert money from the budget to wall construction, though it was unclear if they would face challenges in Congress or the courts. One provision of the law lets the Defense Department provide support for counterdrug activities.
Besides the dollar figure, talks were focusing on the type and location of barriers, participants said. Also in play were the number of beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could have for detained migrants and the amount of aid included for natural disaster relief.
Money for high-tech surveillance equipment and more personnel was also expected to be included.
No one ruled out last-minute problems, but they said the momentum was clearly toward clinching an agreement that Congress could pass by next Friday. The next day, many government agencies would run out of money and have to close again without a deal.
If there is a bipartisan deal, there likely would be enough votes to pass it without the most conservative Republicans or the most liberal Democrats.