- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

President Trump says he made his point — the U.S. needs a border wall, and he will build it with or without Congress.

Rather than force another unpopular and economically harmful government shutdown, Mr. Trump sounds increasingly willing to accept the agreement in Congress that provides about $1.3 billion for border barriers. That’s less than one-fourth of the $5.7 billion that he demanded initially for a wall.

“I think a point was made with the last shutdown,” the president said Wednesday. “People realized how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is.”

Lawmakers sorted out the details of the agreement and released details of the bill early Thursday morning. The House and Senate will be voting on the bill later in the day.

The nearly 1,800-page spending bill has money for 55 miles of new border “fencing” in Texas, and money to maintain a daily average of 45,274 detention beds under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the agency that now holds more than 49,000 immigrants who live in the U.S. illegally in custody. The bill also provides the authority to move cash around to go above that level, if the Homeland Secretary determines it’s needed.

When that question and others were still unresolved late Wednesday, the conservative House Freedom Caucus called for a one-week extension of stopgap funding to keep the government open and give lawmakers more time to review the fine print of the border deal. Congress is facing a Friday deadline to approve spending bills to keep nine government agencies open.

The agreement would pay for 55 miles of border fencing or barriers, but not concrete walls, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The president and his advisers are exploring other ways to shift money within departments to pay for more barriers, an option that is riling up congressional Democrats.

“He needs congressional permission to do it,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who noted that Democrats now hold the House majority. “He doesn’t have the authority to do it without House permission.”

But Republicans say the law gives presidents some flexibility with so-called “transfer authority” to shift already-appropriated funds toward border security. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has cited as an example about $900 million for fighting drug trafficking that was appropriated to the Pentagon.

Mr. Trump is increasingly delivering the message that he’s already building the wall, regardless of Congress, saying he has “options.”

“When people see what we’re doing, I think they’ll be very surprised,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of work. We’re giving out contracts right now. We have options that most people don’t really understand.”

Speaking later Wednesday to law enforcement groups, Mr. Trump vowed to “finish the border wall.”

“As we review the new proposal from Congress, I can promise you this — I will never waver from my sacred duty to defend this nation and its people,” he said. “We will get the job done. It’s happening.”

He told police chiefs and county sheriffs that the barrier will be “a big wall.”

“It’s a wall that people aren’t going through very easy,” the president said. “You’d have to be in extremely good shape to get over this one. They would be able to climb Mount Everest a lot easier, I think.”

The president, who vowed last December that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the principle of border security, made clear that he doesn’t want to repeat the episode that forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay for 35 days.

“A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” Mr. Trump said. “I think a lot of good points were made, but I don’t want to see another one — there’s no reason for it.”

While much of Mr. Trump’s Republican base supported the shutdown that started Dec. 22, voters overall disapproved. Gallup said Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s job-approval rating fell to 35 percent in mid-January during the shutdown, but had climbed back to 44 percent in early February after he agreed to reopen the government.

The increase was largely attributable to more-positive comments from independents, pollsters said.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey released Wednesday found that only 33 percent of respondents support a second shutdown over Mr. Trump’s demand for a border wall.

Some influential conservatives aren’t heaping as much public pressure on Mr. Trump this time to force a shutdown.

Fox News host Sean Hannity called the new agreement a “garbage compromise” when it came out Monday night, but he has since toned down his criticism, referring to the $1.3 billion as a “down payment” on the wall and suggesting the administration can find more money elsewhere in the federal budget.

“In that case, he wins big time,” Mr. Hannity said on his daily radio show.

Critics of the president are saying that he got nothing from the shutdown, because he got less for border barriers than Democrats had offered last year. But beginning with a campaign rally he held Monday night on the border in El Paso, Texas, Mr. Trump has been telling supporters that the pain of the shutdown was necessary to make his point about the urgency of the border security crisis.

He said the shutdown was worth a temporary increase in the nation’s unemployment rate.

“We had a little blip [in the unemployment rate] because of a thing called the shutdown,” Mr. Trump said. “But remember this … if we didn’t do that shutdown, we would not have been able to show this country, these politicians, the world, what the hell is happening with the border.”

He added, “That was a very important thing we did.”

White House aides also noted that the agreement provides some money for border barriers, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had dismissively offered the president $1 for wall funding in testy talks during the shutdown.

Mrs. Pelosi was urging House Democrats to support the tentative agreement Wednesday.

“As with all compromises, I say to people, support the bill for what is in it,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters. “Don’t judge it for what is not in it. We have other days to pass other legislation.”

With lawmakers rushing to avoid another shutdown, however, some of the president’s conservative allies were urging him to pack a short-term funding extension to provide more time to study the details of the deal.

“In politics trust is everything,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government. “This president has no reason to trust that Speaker Pelosi did not insert trap language into the bill, and he would be wise to verify that the proposed legislation is free from language that would prevent meaningful action to address the crisis at the border. While everyone would like to see this drama finally come to an end, it is better to get it right than to regret signing the bill later.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.

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