Talks to avert a new government shutdown over funding for border-security funding broke down late on Saturday, according to lawmakers and aides, imperiling the prospects for a deal as time runs short.
Negotiations can still get back on track, and some key lawmakers planned to talk via phone on Sunday afternoon, but the prospect of getting a deal by Friday’s deadline seem to have derailed just as lawmakers thought they were on track to reach a compromise.
The sticking point is a sudden shift to enforcement matters, as Democrats and Republicans spar over the number and purpose of immigration detention beds in the U.S. The issue would typically be regarded as a side-note to the broader talks about the amount of funding for border security. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that Democrats were trying to create a distraction after “a very bad week” of news.
“The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally,” Trump said in a tweet Sunday.
Without a funding deal, nine federal departments and related agencies would shut down again, just weeks after a record 35-day closing. Negotiators had hoped to unveil a deal Monday to set up votes in the House and Senate before the deadline.
“I’ll say 50/50 we’ll get a deal,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got some problems with the Democrats” over funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations.
“As long as the goalposts continue moving, there’s really no way we can lock in on an agreement,’’ said Republican Representative Tom Graves of Georgia, who serves on the conference committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Lawmakers could resort to a stopgap resolution with funding through Sept. 30 if they can’t get a deal, but acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump “cannot sign everything they put in front of him. There’ll be some things that simply we couldn’t agree to.”
Mulvaney said a shutdown isn’t the most likely option but that he “absolutely cannot” rule it out. Trump has also threatened declaring a national emergency to get funding for a border wall.
“He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure the border,” Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of two scheduled appearances on Sunday talk shows.
“You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7 (billion) off the table,” he said, referring to the level of funds Trump has been demanding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
‘All Over the Map’
Mulvaney spoke as Congressional negotiators try to iron out a border security plan that includes some sort of barrier, whether wall, fence or other. He called the level of proposed border wall funding “all over the map.”
As of Saturday, it seemed that negotiators were focused on a proposal with border barrier funding of between $1.3 billion and $2 billion, said a person familiar with the talks. Details about where the fencing would go and a Democratic request to eliminate previously funded fencing in the National Butterfly Center, a conservation area close to the border in Mission, Texas, were still being negotiated.
Trump on Saturday suggested that if Democrats didn’t give him all the wall money he’s demanded, he may use executive action to build it. Democrats have warned such action would face court challenges, and some Republicans have also suggested it’s an option best avoided.
Congressional negotiators traded offers throughout the day on Saturday. While the two sides are now said to be close to a dollar amount for border barriers, Democrats are now making a higher level of funding for barriers contingent on the new cap for detention beds — something Republicans are resisting.
There are currently 40,520 ICE immigration detention beds funded by Congress. Heading into the talks, the White House sought to increase the number to 52,000, while Democrats wanted a reduction to 35,520. Democrats have proposed a 16,500 cap on beds to be used for interior enforcement, with the rest to be used for those captured at the border, according to people familiar with the talks.
A senior Republican aide said Shelby won’t accept an interior cap, and Democrats told Republicans they won’t proceed without one. The aide said that lawmakers now need to talk directly to resolve the impasse because staff cannot move forward with offers. Calls on the topic are expected today.
The Democrats want to use the cap to force ICE to detain criminals rather than ordinary undocumented immigrants with no criminal history, a Democratic person familiar with the discussions said. The cap level matches an informal one used during the Obama administration.
“For far too long, the Trump administration has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies,” said Democratic Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, a member of the conference committee.
“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.”
But Republicans have said violent criminals caught inside the U.S. shouldn’t count toward the cap, and that ICE should have discretion about whom to detain.
Trump said on Twitter earlier that he doesn’t think Democrats on the committee are being allowed by their party leaders to make a deal with border wall money and “now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”
“I actually believe they want a Shutdown,” Trump said in a separate tweet, suggesting it was a bad week for Democrats with the
controversy in Virginia and good economic news for the U.S. economy, and they want to change the subject.
Reducing bed space for violent offenders is an incentive for illegal immigration, Senator Lindsey Graham said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” The South Carolina Republican, a confidant of the president, said he would advise Trump “to take as much money as he can get [from Congress] and find the rest on his own.”
Democrats are also demanding language in the bill aimed at blocking Trump from shifting funds into an account to build the wall, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The language could stymie executive actions to build the barriers and has become another hitch, the person said.
Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email on Sunday noting that he’s scheduled to hold a rally on Monday in El Paso, Texas, “to show Democrats how much Americans demand The WALL.”
“Democrats have chosen petty games over the safety of Americans,” the campaign said in the email.
Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, another Republican who’s close to Trump, echoed the president on Sunday on CBS: “this President is going to build a wall one way or another,” he said.
“I do expect the President to take some kind of executive action — a national emergency is certainly part of that,” Meadows said. “There are a few other things in his toolbox that he could use. But I do expect him to do that if we don’t reach a compromise.”
— With assistance by Mark Niquette, Hailey Waller, Laura Litvan, and Arit John
(Updates staring with Trump tweet in fourth paragraph.)