Shutdown talks take a turn for the worse


The U.S. Capitol

The faltering discussions came after lawmakers entered the weekend feeling optimistic about their chances of crafting a bipartisan deal. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Negotiations to avert another government shutdown abruptly fell apart over the weekend, raising the risk of another shuttering of services, a stopgap funding bill or a declaration by President Donald Trump of a national emergency at the southern border.

The collapse of the talks over hammering out a border security package and paying for a barrier leave lawmakers in the same place they’ve been for months. Among the issues Democratic negotiators are focused on is Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., not just crossing the border. They also insist they want a cap on detention beds to force ICE to prioritize which undocumented immigrants it targets within the U.S., and they say that without it, the agency will increase deportation raids in local communities without valid reason.

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The latest impasse suggests Democrats are not seeing much incentive to concede to the Trump administration’s requests for billions of dollars in border wall money, after winning the last round of shutdown negotiations. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to see whether Republicans and Democrats could strike a deal on border security. But the prospect of that is dimming.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) acknowledged on Sunday that negotiations had stalled, and he put the odds of getting a deal at 50-50.

“We’ve got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE,” Shelby told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “I’m not confident we’re going to get there. I’m hoping we will get there.”

The faltering discussions came after lawmakers entered the weekend feeling optimistic about their chances of crafting a bipartisan deal. Negotiators are under pressure to reach an agreement by Monday to fund the government past Feb. 15, in order to allow the House and Senate sufficient time to review and vote on the proposal.

Also on Monday, Trump will hold a rally for supporters in the border city of El Paso, Texas, to once again make his case for building a barrier.

Even if the conference committee fails and Congress considers a stopgap funding bill, Republicans and Democrats may still clash over the particulars of any continuing resolution, a form of appropriations legislation that Democrats may use to restrict unilateral action by Trump on the border.

The White House is open to signing a continuing resolution, a change from its previous position, according to White House and congressional officials. White House officials signaled to lawmakers during a weekend retreat at Camp David that it preferred a continuing resolution to the deal the committee was likely to offer, which would have supplied between $500 million and $1 billion for border fencing in addition to the $1.3 billion in the current stopgap bill, according to one Democratic aide.

Democrats are blaming Shelby for taking a harder line. The senator met on Thursday with Trump, who gave him general parameters for a deal. But according to one person familiar with the meeting, the president did not discuss with Shelby ICE arrests within the U.S., which Republicans say is the biggest outstanding issue.

Negotiations reached an impasse on Saturday, primarily over detention beds and interior enforcement, according to four sources familiar with the talks. Democratic negotiators offered a deal to their Republican counterparts, but Republicans are refusing to negotiate until Democrats take back their demand for a cap on the number of beds used for undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, two of the sources said.

“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, one of the lead Democratic negotiators, said in a statement on Sunday.

Though Trump’s hard-line demands for $5.7 billion in border wall funding sparked a 35-day partial shutdown this winter, lawmakers had been negotiating this month on replacing some existing barriers, until the enforcement issue halted things entirely over the weekend.

A Democrat familiar with the talks said that if Democrats increased barrier funding, Republicans should be willing to concede on a reduction in detention beds.

“Each side can give,” the Democrat said.

Democratic conferees planned to talk by phone later on Sunday to discuss the next steps, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

A congressional source familiar with the talks said: “I would say all is not lost, but it’s certainly not the place anybody wanted to be.”

Trump, meanwhile, went on Twitter on Sunday to blame Democratic leadership for the impasse.

“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal,” he tweeted. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”

He added that “with the terrible offers being made by them to the Border Committee, I actually believe they want a Shutdown.”

Later in the afternoon he posted: “The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally. Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall (they overrode recommendations of Border Patrol experts), but they don’t even want to take muderers into custody! What’s going on?”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of the negotiators, appeared slightly more optimistic.

“We are not to a point where we can announce a deal. Negotiations are still going on,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There are good people on this committee, so I have confidence that hopefully we will get something done very soon.”

Trump is not ruling out another government shutdown, according to Mick Mulvaney, his acting White House chief of staff.

“The government shutdown is technically still on the table,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We do not want it to come to that, but that option is still open to the president and will remain so.”

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mulvaney added: “Let’s say that the hardcore left wing of the Democrat Party prevails this negotiation and they put a bill on the president’s desk with, say, zero money for the wall or $800 million, some absurdly low number. How does he sign that? He cannot in good faith sign that.”

A Democratic source said that Republicans appeared to be walking away because they want a continuing resolution that would give the White House Office of Management and Budget transfer authority over federal dollars.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-.S.C.) told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that the president would not sign a bill that would limit the number of detention beds.

“How in the world after that speech does he sign a bill that would reduce the number of bed spaces available for violent offenders,” Graham said, referring to Trump’s State of the Union address last week.

Graham predicted that a continuing resolution was “probably where we’ll go.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, echoed Graham’s remarks on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, and said the Trump administration would not support cutting back the number of detention beds. Meadows described limits on the number of beds as an “open-border policy.” He added that Democrats were trying to control where border money is spent, but that “experts should be the ones deciding how we spend it.”

Meadows predicted that Trump would declare a national emergency or take some form of executive action if a deal was not reached.

“This president is going to build a wall one way or another,” he said.

Lawmakers are discussing the possibility of a yearlong continuing resolution bill, but so far discussions have not led to a proposal that both House Democrats and Senate Republicans could get on board with, the congressional source said.

The impasse in negotiations adds pressure on party leaders and the White House, who will have to step in if the conference members can’t quickly resolve their differences over detention beds and funding for a border barrier.

Last week, conservative lawmakers said Trump would accept around $2 billion, but Democrats have so far rejected that amount.

John Bresnahan, Ted Hesson and Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.


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