UPDATE 6-U.S. lawmakers optimistic on reaching border security deal
Facing a Friday deadline to avoid another partial U.S. government shutdown, congressional negotiators said they were aiming to reach a deal on border security funding by Monday night, after talks broke down over the weekend. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Richard Shelby spoke to reporters during a break in private meetings they have been holding with two of their House of Representatives counterparts.
"Senator Shelby and I ... both agree that if we can wrap this up tonight, do it tonight, not go over to tomorrow" with negotiations, Leahy said. "We're talking about reaching an agreement on all of it," Shelby said. He was referring to deciding funding levels through Sept. 30 for physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, along with the number of immigrant detention beds throughout the United States.
The stalled talks restarted in the U.S. Capitol just hours before a scheduled rally in the Texas border city of El Paso, where President Donald Trump will promote his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal opposed by Democrats. An anti-wall protest will greet the Republican president, led by hometown Democrat Beto O'Rourke, the former congressman considering running for his party's 2020 presidential nomination after gaining national prominence last year by nearly upsetting Republican Ted Cruz in a U.S. Senate race in Texas.
In Washington, the lawmakers grappled with brokering a deal by late Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House of Representatives and Senate and get Trump's signature by Friday, when funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies. Trump, who said in December he would be "proud" to shut the federal government over border security, took a different tack on Monday. "It's up to the Democrats," Trump told reporters at the White House when asked whether the government was headed toward its second shutdown of the winter.
The talks stumbled over the weekend over funding for physical barriers along the border and a Democratic proposal to reduce allotted spaces in immigration detention facilities for people facing deportation. Democrats oppose the Trump administration expanding its capacity to hold more people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for eventual deportation.
The White House and the top Republican in Congress on Monday blasted the Democratic plan, which calls for lowering an existing cap on beds at the detention facilities to 35,520 from the current 40,520 in return for giving Republicans some of the money they want for physical border barriers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the proposal a "poison pill" introduced into the talks by the Democrats, saying it would result in the release of thousands of illegal immigrants.
Democrats counter that placing new limits would force the administration to focus on detaining illegal immigrants with serious criminal records and not those stopped for minor traffic infractions, for example. Conservative Republican Representative Mark Meadows, an ally of the White House, told reporters he thought Trump would be open to avoiding a government shutdown by extending funding at current levels if a broad deal cannot be reached.
Trump's December demand for $5.7 billion to help construct a border wall triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month without him getting wall funding. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, to avert another shutdown on Feb. 15.
Negotiators had been discussing possibly slightly more than $1.6 billion for "physical barriers" along the southern border, far below Trump's demand. Trump made a border wall one of his central 2016 campaign promises, saying it was needed to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other crimes and that Mexico would pay for it. Democrats, who assumed control of the House last month from Trump's fellow Republicans, have called a wall ineffective, expensive and immoral.
Democrats generally push for less use of detention, arguing it is much cheaper to release some immigrants but require restrictions on them such as wearing ankle bracelets that track their location. Republicans want to increase the number of beds in detention facilities to enable holding more people to speed up and expand deportations. Trump, who has sought to crack down on illegal immigration and has called the situation at the border a national security crisis, deployed 3,750 more U.S. troops there this month.
Rebuking Trump, California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said he would pull hundreds of the state's National Guard troops from the border. "The border 'emergency' is nothing more than a manufactured crisis - and CA's National Guard will not be part of this political theater," Newsom wrote on Twitter. New Mexico's Democratic governor made a similar move last week.
(With inputs from agencies.)
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