By Steven T. Dennis, Anna Edgerton, and Erik Wasson
Plan includes $1.375 billion for border barrier, aides say
Trump support remains wild card in talks over border wall
Congressional negotiators reached a tentative deal on border security that would give President Donald Trump far less money than he’d demanded for new barriers and would avert another government shutdown.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby said lawmakers agreed on all seven spending bills needed to keep government agencies open, including the Department of Homeland Security that oversees border protection.
The plan includes $1.375 billion for 55 new miles of border fencing in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley area, according to congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity. The amount is less than the $5.7 billion sought by Trump.
In addition, two aides said Democrats dropped their demand for a cap on detention beds for immigrants detained within the U.S., but the overall cap on beds, including those detained at the border, would drop to 40,520 from 49,057.
The agreement was announced about a half hour before Trump took the stage in the border city of El Paso, Texas, at a political rally where he said he heard there was a deal, but told his audience, “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”
“We’re setting the stage, we’re setting the table, we’re doing whatever we have to do,” Trump said.
Earlier, his campaign said in a fundraising pitch that the rally was designed “to show Democrats how much Americans demand The WALL.”
When asked whether Trump will support the deal, Shelby said, "We think so, we hope so," based on "the latitude they’ve given us."
Also participating in Monday’s meetings were Representative Nita Lowey and Senator Patrick Leahy, both Democrats, and Representative Kay Granger, a Republican.
"If the four of us couldn’t get it together, Congress never could," said Leahy of Vermont, the Senate Appropriations panel’s top Democrat.
Regarding the detention beds, a third congressional aide said the deal would actually increase funding for those beds by about 5,000 over last year’s record levels and said there would be enough flexibility built in to meet Trump’s request for 52,000 beds.
That aide said the 55 new miles of border barrier would be double the amount of new miles provided in fiscal 2018 and nearly three times as much as would have been available if current funds had been extended through September. The Border Patrol could use any design in current use, including steel slats.
Trump remains a wild card. The president has in the past reversed course without warning, as he did last December in blowing up a previous spending accord and triggering a 35-day shutdown.
Treasury futures fell to the day’s low after the deal was announced in Washington as investors switched their attention to risky assets. S&P 500 Index futures extended gains, rising as much as 0.4 percent to a session high.
Lowey of New York, the House Appropriations chairwoman, said congressional staff will put together the details of the agreement. Votes would need to be taken before Friday night, when funding expires for the government agencies.
“I hope by Wednesday we’ll have a finished product,” Lowey said. "Some people may think it’s a great deal, some people may have done it differently, but we did it together and I really think it’s a good product."
Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for a border barrier. House Democrats opened the talks with an offer of no new money for border barriers, while Senate Democrats had offered $1.6 billion in funds before the shutdown began.
Trump has been demanding a wall since the 2016 presidential campaign. The recent shutdown, the nation’s longest, ended when Trump signed a three-week spending bill on Jan. 25 and both parties agreed to create a 17-member committee to negotiate a solution.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has said she would accept whatever deal the group came up with, and Lowey said she signed off on the deal. If Trump doesn’t go along, however, some GOP senators say they’re unlikely to go along with it, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, hasn’t ruled out bringing it to a vote.
Trump has threatened another shutdown if a new spending bill doesn’t fund “a new physical barrier, or wall” along the border. The president has a history of tearing up bipartisan deals, including a potential trade last year that would have provided $25 billion in wall money in exchange for protection from deportation for young undocumented immigrants.
The president has said he may declare an emergency and use money from other parts of the budget to fund a wall. Such a move would likely be challenged in court, and Pelosi could force votes in Congress on whether to disapprove the emergency declaration. McConnell, who has urged Trump to avoid declaring an emergency, has sought to protect his senators from a vote on it.
Republicans have described the new barrier funded by the bill as a "wall," while Democrats prefer the term "fence." The semantic distinction could allow both sides to claim victory, with Republicans arguing they met Trump’s campaign promise of a southern border wall, and Democrats saying there is no money for a wall.
The deal would allow a number of departments to continue operating, including Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. Also funded would be independent agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.
If the agreement is enacted, it could set a more positive tone for the newly divided Congress that took office during the shutdown in January.
Congress will need to raise the nation’s debt ceiling later this year, and decide what to do about $126 billion in automatic cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary funding caps set for 2020. Trump also will ask Democrats approve a revised North American Free Trade Agreement, and the president and Democrats say they want to develop an infrastructure plan.
— With assistance by John Fitzpatrick
(Updates with Trump comment in fifth paragraph.)