- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2019

After weeks of refusing to negotiate, House Democrats say they are working on a border security counteroffer that could match President Trump’s $5.7 billion request for money — though it won’t include the 230 miles of new fencing he wants.

It’s the first step toward a deal for House Democrats, whose official stance remains that they won’t talk until the government is reopened but whose members are increasingly antsy to be seen working on ending the month-old government shutdown.

The movement in the House comes ahead of a pair of showdown votes in the Senate on proposals to reopen the government — one that would include Mr. Trump’s latest immigration plan and another, from Democrats, that would not.

Neither is expected to pass, which could send the ball back to the House for next steps.

House Democratic leaders said the plan they are working on will include more money for security and drug interdiction at border ports of entry and more immigration judges to process cases of people claiming asylum.



“It’s technology, it’s manpower, it’s fortifying the ports of entry along with the judges and some other things,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Thompson said a 2018 appropriations bill already includes money to repair existing fencing along the border.

“No new structures,” Mr. Thompson said. “The only thing we’re talking about is existing structures — some of them need repair.”

The 2018 bill includes money for both upgrades and new mileage of fencing, and most Democrats in the House and Senate supported that legislation. But as Mr. Trump’s demands have grown bolder, Democrats have moved in the other direction.

Still, one senior Democrat, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, told Bloomberg that their counteroffer could include money for “secondary barriers.” Those are generally second- or third-tier fences that create backup coverage for existing primary walls or fences.

Mr. Clyburn said Democrats may even be willing to include $5.7 billion — the same as Mr. Trump’s request — but the projects will be different.

“We may be, so long as there is supporting evidence that is what [is] required. The question is not how much, but how effective, how efficient, how humane,” he said.

He said they are willing to “bring in the experts” to tell them what is needed.

While the Democrats’ plan seems like a negotiation, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said it’s more a statement of principles.

“The letter is going to articulate what we believe is effective investment to accomplish border security,” he said. “We are prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money because we share the view that borders need to be secure.”

Speaking to MSNBC later, he acknowledged that Congress has voted for border fencing in the past and said he expects it to be part of deal-making in the future because it will be a piece of Mr. Trump’s starting offer.

“It’s going to be part of the negotiations,” he said.

Democrats say they have never seen a complete plan from Mr. Trump to justify the border wall. Homeland Security officials insist they have submitted several plans to Congress, although they have not made them public. They say the places where they are asking for fencing were suggested by Border Patrol agents and planners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Mr. Trump’s immigration plan, which will get a test vote Thursday in the Senate, also includes three-year legal status, enshrined in law, for 700,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who are covered by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty and another 300,000 migrants in the U.S. under the humanitarian Temporary Protected Status program.

The president’s plan also would open a new avenue for Central American children to apply for asylum from their home countries while closing avenues for them to sneak into the U.S. and then make a claim.

The goal is to change the incentive structure that draws illegal immigrants north.
It’s not clear whether the Democrats’ bill will try to tackle those policies.

House Democrats have been content so far to take votes on bills to reopen other parts of the government while making tweaks on border security.

On Wednesday, they approved a package of six bills that they said have money for construction at ports of entry and more immigration judges to process asylum cases.

Republicans said the vote was wasting time.

“The president has been very clear: Any legislation that does not include funding to secure the border is dead on arrival in the Senate and will not be signed into law,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

While Democrats largely say they are sticking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her standoff with the president, some are working on other ways out of the impasse.

Newly elected Rep. Elaine G. Luria, Virginia Democrat, on Wednesday released a letter to Mrs. Pelosi signed by more than two dozen House Democrats that calls for a committee debate on border security once the government is reopened.

The letter also calls for a guaranteed House floor vote on a border security funding package by the end of February.

The members asked Mrs. Pelosi to present their proposal to the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“What we’re trying to say is that we need to return to regular order, we need to open the government, we need to take these issues to committee to analyze them,” Ms. Luria said Wednesday.

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