Top Dealmakers Make A Deal On Border Security…Including Funds For New Barriers
Now The Question Is Will Congress Pass, And Will Trump Sign A Bipartisan Agreement That Doesn’t Give Him Everything He’s Demanded?
The tentative agreement was apparently hammered out not by the full bipartisan conference committee, but by its 4 highest-ranking members: New York Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby, Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, and Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger. And these are the main features (as gleaned from various news sources, mostly the New York Times, Roll Call, and Bloomberg, since there’s been no official announcement or rollout — the earliest we might see something on paper is probably tomorrow):
- $1.375-billion for border barriers, far shy of the $5.7-billion Trump was demanding, and slightly less than the amount included in a December bill, written when Republicans were still in control of Congress, which Trump refused to sign. (That set off the shutdown, and subsequent events leading up to this.) And it’s only a slightly higher amount than what Democrats offered him in informal discussions in January. That barrier would be in the form of 55 miles of new “bollard fencing” in the Texas Rio Grande area, not a concrete wall. Bollard fencing is made of 18-foot high steel slats, also buried 6 feet into the ground to prevent tunneling (as the photo just below from Business Insider shows). The fact that it’s not a concrete wall should be irrelevant, because as we discussed in a column last week, the President has made it known he’s OK with bollard fencing since way back when Sean Spicer was his Press Secretary.
- And Democrats dropped their demand to sharply cut funding for beds in ICE detention centers. But this one is tricky: the cap on total detention beds would still be reduced, to a daily average of 45,274. There are an estimated 49,047 beds in use in U.S. in immigration detention facilities right now. (Democrats had wanted to lower that number to 16,500.) So in order to average out to the “daily average” number by the end of the year, the number of beds would have to trend down, eventually dropping well below the “daily average”, to around 40,000. But the smaller reduction is not a Democrat thing: it actually matches the number that was in the original Republican-drafted bill back in December, and is the number currently funded. Also the language: “daily average” makes it possible for there to be a lot more at any given time without running afoul of the law. Also, the President, through the Defense Department, might have the power to increase the numbers on his own, through Executive Order. So as we said, that one’s really tricky.
Democrats were demanding fewer beds because it would’ve meant ICE having less ability to very aggressively expand the number of raids, etc., and keep efforts mainly to capturing undocumented immigrants with criminal records and not just anyone here illegally. Of course the President twisted this to accuse Democrats of wanting to let criminal aliens run amok.
So it looks like the total amount of funding in the package comes to around $3.1-billion, still far less than the President said he needed for the wall alone (although there may be some expenditures and elements we do not yet know about). But substantially more overall than Democrats were originally willing to give.
Of course, the bill still could face opposition to passage in the House and/or Senate before it gets to the President’s desk. Which it needs to by the end of the week in order to avoid another shutdown. The deal is so spanking new few in Congress have had a chance to react to it yet, so we’ll get a better idea of how it’s received later today. But it’s already not being well-received by far right pundits and commentators (Sean Hannity called it a “garbage compromise”), and as we know, those folks sometimes have the ability to turn Trump’s sentiments, and quickly. Some Democrats are also probably going to oppose the legislation on the grounds it gives too much power to ICE. As of time of publication of this newsletter Trump had not weighed in on Twitter yet. At a rally last night in El Paso, Texas, The President said he’d been informed of the progress, but did not know the details and “we’re building the wall anyway”.
So the key is getting enough people in the middle in the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratically-controlled House to sign onto it. They know if they don’t pass it the next shutdown will fall on their shoulders, and worse, will cede a lot of the power normally held by Congress to the President. As Bloomberg puts it: “Tentative Border Deal In Congress Leaves Shutdown Up To Trump.” So the next step is a test of leadership for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Pelosi last week said she’d accept any agreement coming out of the committee. McConnell did not make the same promise, but he’s indicated he’s not itching for another shutdown. Also, the committee is not likely to have come forth with an agreement they don’t think will pass both the Senate and House. So will it pass? Says Senator Shelby “we think so…we hope so”. So we’ll see…
And tomorrow we’ll talk about why it was so important for Congress, and the country that this deal got done, assuming it actually gets done…