- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

President Trump may not have been happy with it, but congressional Republicans said he actually made out pretty well in the new spending deal emerging on Capitol Hill, with at least a “down payment” on his border wall and expansive powers to detain immigrants caught living illegally in the U.S. interior.

Democrats, meanwhile, crowed over limiting him to far less wall money than he wants, though they admitted they were unable to limit the number of detention beds, caving on an 11th-hour demand that had temporarily upended talks.

Cowed by fears of another partial government shutdown, all sides said they hoped Mr. Trump would accept the bargain and sign it into law this week.

The alternative, they said, would be an unthinkable second work stoppage for hundreds of thousands of employees still reeling from the 35-day shutdown that ended just a couple weeks ago.

“It’s not everything the president hoped to get, but I think it’s a good step in the right direction,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “I hope he’ll decide to sign it.”

Mr. Trump gave mixed signals.

“I can’t say I’m happy. I can’t say I’m thrilled, but the wall’s getting built regardless,” the president said during a meeting with his Cabinet.

For now, the $1.375 billion included in the bill would pay for 55 miles of new bollard-style fencing, which the Border Patrol says is the most modern and preferred style of wall.

Mr. Trump, though, said he is still considering claiming emergency powers to shift money around and task the Pentagon with building more of his wall beyond what Congress has authorized.

Democrats warned that would precipitate a constitutional crisis, but key congressional Republicans said laws passed decades ago give the president expansive emergency powers, should he choose to flex them.

“I do know that the president has significant authority already given to him by Congress, and money, to build various kinds of physical barriers,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.

He said a defense spending bill Congress passed several months ago contains $881 million specifically earmarked to build fences in drug-smuggling corridors.

“Now, some of that money’s already committed — a lot of it’s not,” Mr. Alexander said. “And it’s authority the president might be able to use to transfer other funds.”

He and fellow Republicans were waiting to see what Mr. Trump would decide about the wall.

Senators had thought in December they had a deal on a bill to keep the government open, with the White House’s blessing, only to see Mr. Trump, stoked by conservatives, reverse course and say he wouldn’t sign it.

Lawmakers from both parties pleaded with him not to do that again.

“I don’t know the details, but the parameters of this are good,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “I urge President Trump to sign this agreement. We must not have a rerun of what happened a few months back.”

Democratic leaders told their troops that they had to give Mr. Trump some border barrier money as the price of avoiding a shutdown.

But Democratic negotiators retreated on a last-minute demand to limit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s capacity to detain, and therefore to deport, immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Key liberal groups, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, had called cutting ICE’s detention beds a red line issue for them.

With that in mind, Democratic negotiators had demanded a limit of 34,000 detention beds, with most of those being reserved for border crossers, thereby limiting ICE’s ability to arrest, detain and deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Mr. Trump’s budget had sought 52,000 beds, and ICE currently has about 49,000 people in custody.

A Democratic aide said the bill’s funding would put ICE on a “glide path” down to 40,520 beds. But Republicans said there’s enough flexibility to accommodate up to nearly 59,000 beds — well above Mr. Trump’s request — should circumstances demand it.

Sen. Roy Blunt, who is on the 17-member committee that has been working on the deal, said it includes “plenty of flexibility” for the administration to add beds if needed.

“There’s [about] $750 million that could be repurposed if detention beds become an ongoing issue,” the Missouri Republican said. “It would be our view that there’s enough flexibility there for internal enforcement of immigration control to detain people who have a criminal record who should be detained.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, Republicans’ chief negotiator, said “all presidents” have used reprogramming powers.

The text of the bill wasn’t expected to be released until at least Wednesday, giving the House and Senate little time to maneuver ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown.

In addition to homeland security funding, lawmakers are including in the deal six other full-year spending bills to fund agencies such as the IRS and NASA that fell victim to the recent shutdown.

But those were less controversial, and lawmakers had consistently said they could put those together quickly once they struck a deal on border security funding.

Some conservatives panned the $1.375 billion of wall funding as inadequate.

“President Trump’s emergency appropriations request was for one-fifth of the total wall cost,” said Rep. Mark Green, Tennessee Republican. “Now we’re discussing appropriating one-fifth of the one-fifth. This is embarrassing. Congress isn’t leaving the president much of a choice.”

Still, Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, appeared resigned to the fact that there’s little he and his conservative allies in the House can do to stop the deal from moving forward.

“We don’t have leverage on this particular issue because it obviously is going to be Democrat-led, both in the House and in the Senate to get this done,” Mr. Meadows said.

He predicted Mr. Trump would reluctantly sign the deal and said the president could then use executive action to go further.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide