Congressional leaders said on Monday night that they had reached a “deal in principle” over funding for border barriers — an agreement that if signed by President Trump would forestall another government shutdown at midnight Friday. But the negotiators noted that they have gotten no assurances from the White House, which didn’t immediately comment on the deal.
Trump’s assent is hardly assured, because the bipartisan and bicameral committee has allocated nothing close to the funding he demanded to finance his “border wall.” Their framework provides only $1.375 billion for barriers along the Mexican border — with 55 miles of new fencing — which is less than one-fourth of the $5.7 billion sought by Trump to build walls stretching 200 miles.
Democrats dropped a late demand for strict limits on the number of detention beds that could be used by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants. They had sought to reduce the number of detention beds in the budget to about 35,000, or 1 7,000 less than Republicans and Trump demanded. Democratic sources told CNN that the tentative agreement had compromised on just under 41,000 beds, approximately the same as in the current budget.
Trump’s determination to win wall funding in the budget resulted in a record 35-day government shutdown that began a few days before Christmas. When the shutdown began to interfere with aviation and other basic services, despite hundreds of thousands of federal workers showing up at their jobs unpaid, the White House folded. Trump agreed to a short-term spending bill that permitted negotiations to resume, with a deadline of Feb. 15.
The White House believes that even with far smaller appropriations from Congress, officials can reprogram money from other agencies to build the wall — or declare a national emergency to achieve the same purpose. But any such moves are certain to provoke litigation that could curtail or delay construction.
While Congressional negotiations to avert a shutdown continued on Monday evening, Trump held a campaign-style rally in El Paso, Texas, to promote the wall. “They say that progress is being made,” he told the rally crowd. “Just so you know. Just now, just now! I said wait a minute, I gotta take care of my people from Texas. I got to go. I don’t even want to hear about it. I don’t want to hear about it.” Not far from Trump’s event, former El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke — who may seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 — led a march and rally against the wall. O’Rourke told his cheering crowd that “walls don’t save lives, walls end lives” — and that El Paso was a safe city “not because of a wall but in spite of it.”