House Democrats, feeling pressure to display their vision for border security, are preparing a package that would ignore President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall with Mexico and would instead pay for other ideas aimed at protecting the border.
As the government slogged through a record 33rd day of its partial shutdown Wednesday, details of Democrats’ border security plan and its cost remained a work in progress. Party leaders said it would include money for scanning devices and other technological tools for improving security at ports of entry and along the border, plus funds for more border agents and immigration judges.
Democrats’ movement toward producing a plan, which they said they expected to unveil this week, was significant because it underscored a growing uneasiness with letting Trump cast them as soft on border security. It came as the Senate prepared for Thursday votes on rival plans for reopening federal agencies and paying 800,000 federal workers who are just days away from missing yet another paycheck.
Republicans would couple ending the shutdown with financing Trump’s wall and revamping immigration laws, while Democrats would reopen agency doors for three weeks while bargainers seek a border security accord.
Both faced likely defeat, but that might spur the two sides into a more serious effort to strike a compromise when each saw it lacked the votes to prevail. Both proposals would need 60 votes to pass in a chamber with 53-47 Republican control.
Ominously, there were few signs of anything but continued partisan hostilities.
Trump told reporters at the White House that Democrats had become “radicalized” and “a very, very dangerous party,” and he took personal aim at Congress’ two top Democrats. He said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is “very strongly dominated” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and called him “a puppet for Nancy Pelosi.”
Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate GOP bill reopening government “embodies the president’s temper tantrum. If you don’t do it my way, I’m shutting down the government and hurting lots of people.”
The GOP bill would temporarily protect from deportation 700,000 “Dreamers,” migrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. They’ve been shielded by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Trump has tried terminating. He’s also offered temporary protections for people who fled violence or natural disasters in several countries — a program Trump has also curtailed.
Democrats say Trump is merely offering to temporarily ease problems he himself caused. They’ve objected to other parts of the GOP bill that make it harder for Central American minors to gain asylum in the U.S.
The testy relationship between Trump and Pelosi, D-Calif., decayed further when she informed him he can’t use the chamber for his planned State of the Union address next Tuesday. She invited him to do so “when government has been opened.”
Trump said he’d plan an event elsewhere. He called Pelosi’s move “a great blotch on the country” that he said showed she didn’t want “the truth” about border security. The clash suggested that a collaborative atmosphere that could facilitate a shutdown deal wasn’t at hand.
Democratic leaders have insisted they won’t negotiate with Trump on border security unless he reopens the government. Trump has said he’ll end the shutdown only if Congress provides money for the wall, though White House officials have indicated he’s open to counteroffers.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has urged the White House to provide green cards to the 700,000 currently in DACA as a way to break the impasse. Lankford has mentioned this to White House adviser Jared Kushner, said a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
With Democrats eager to show they’re trying to end the impasse, the House used mostly party-line votes Wednesday to approve one measure reopening government agencies through February. By a similar tally, the chamber voted to finance most shuttered agencies through September.
Growing numbers of Democrats say the party should show where it stands on border security. Their proposal is expected to exceed the $1.6 billion Trump initially sought for the wall before upping his request.
“If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” said No. 3 House Democratic leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
“Right now it’s a vacuum and the president is offering fake plans to stop drug struggling,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Offering a Democratic alternative “helps the possibility of beginning a real negotiation,” he said.