Lawmakers in both parties are skeptical about President Trump’s chances of securing funding for his wall on the Mexican border after a 35-day partial government shutdown that bruised the White House’s political standing.
The deal reached last week gives Trump and Congress until Feb. 15 to reach a new deal to prevent another partial shutdown, and the president is demanding new legislation again that would fund his signature campaign issue.
Democrats seem unlikely to budget any money for a border wall, and even if they did, lawmakers say such a deal would likely require Trump to include significant immigration reforms, such as giving immigrants known as Dreamers a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency.
That would be a tough nut to crack in only three weeks, and the concessions could also damage Trump with his base.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set the tone immediately after Trump agreed to reopen the government by declaring Friday that she will not change her stance on opposing money for a border wall, which she had previously called “immoral.”
“Have I not been clear on a wall? I’ve been very clear on the wall,” she told reporters Friday when asked whether her position had changed at all because of the decision to reopen government agencies.
Her staunch opposition to funding the wall leaves some lawmakers wondering whether the political dynamic has changed.
“There’s a chance we’re in the same soup in three weeks,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) acknowledged moments after Trump announced he would support funding the government for three weeks to give negotiators space to reach a deal.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who was named Friday to the Senate-House conference committee that will attempt to find a compromise over the next three weeks, has previously said we would only entertain supporting increased funding for border barriers if Republicans agree to a permanent solution for Dreamers facing deportation.
He rejected a proposal floated by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to give Dreamers — illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age — only three years of protection from deportation in exchange for border-wall funding.
Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Sunday reiterated that Democrats want a path to citizenship for immigrants previously protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump rescinded in 2017.
“If the president or his hard-right wing would look at that in a little bit more [of] a compassionate way, I think it would break down the problems that we have with barriers,” Manchin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“Can’t those people deserve ten years — it’s a long pathway — a ten-year pathway? That would really help an awful lot in moving forward,” he added, referring to a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
But Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) warns that trying to reach a broader immigration deal will likely take longer than the three weeks before Trump’s next deadline.
“If you make it a bigger deal, it’s obviously going to take a lot longer to get done,” he said.
Asked about permanent legal status for Dreamers, Thune said “that’s a longer-term conversation with regard to immigration.”
Thune said Republicans would be more likely to agree to “a near-term solution on DACA and TPS,” referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Temporary Protected Status designations that Trump has rescinded since taking office, in exchange for border wall funding.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Gang of Eight that negotiated comprehensive immigration legislation in 2013, warned Sunday that the broader a new immigration proposal grows, the tougher it will be to pass.
“The more stuff you put in the bill, the more reasons someone can find to be against it,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Under the agreement reached with Trump Friday, congressional leaders will set up a special Senate-House conference committee to negotiate a deal on border security they hope would pave the way for passage of all seven appropriations bills to fund about 25 percent of government.
Trump warned in the Rose Garden Friday that he could declare a national emergency to build the wall and bypass Congress altogether if lawmakers fail to produce a result by Feb. 15.
But Republican lawmakers say that would likely get blocked by the courts, limiting the effectiveness of Trump’s leverage.
“You’re at the mercy of a district court somewhere and ultimately an appellate court. So it really may not even withstand if you look at some of the other rulings we’ve seen,” Rubio said on “Meet the Press.”
GOP lawmakers are also concerned about setting a new precedent that weakens Congress’s power of the purse.
Members of the new Senate-House conference committee say that Pelosi along with the other top leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — will have a big influence on the discussions.
“Leadership always plays a role, even if you’re in a non-controversial conference committee. I think that’s to be expected,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), whom McConnell appointed to the conference committee Friday.
Capito said the point of creating a conference committee is to return to “regular order” in an attempt to take some of the political charge off the negotiations.
The standoff between Trump and Pelosi over the border wall became so acrimonious that it appeared like a personal grudge match at times. When Pelosi tried to pressure Trump to reopen by canceling his invitation to deliver the State of the Union address, he answered by cancelling military transportation for her planned congressional delegation trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Capito, the chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, negotiated a bill with Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), the top Democrat on the subpanel, that allocated $1.6 billion for border fencing, an increase over what Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2018. All but five Democrats on the entire Appropriations Committee voted to approve the measure in June.
In addition to Durbin and Capito, Tester and Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) have been named as the Senate representatives to the upcoming conference negotiation.
McConnell, who named the conferees Friday afternoon, picked four of his most pragmatic colleagues, a sign that he wants to get a deal.
The GOP leader since November has tried to keep his fellow Republicans realistic about the chances of getting money for a border wall, warning shortly after the election that there would have to be “some kind of bipartisan discussion.”
There have been some signs of the two parties coming closer together in the past week.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday said Democrats could support granting $5.7 billion for border security as long as none of it was used to build a physical wall.
Instead, he said Democrats would prefer a “smart wall,” referring to the use of drones and other advanced technology along the border and at points of entry.
Separately, Democrats last week offered $1.5 billion for border security measures on a bill to reopen the government.
This has fueled some optimism that negotiators may defy the odds and reach a deal on an intractable issue that has eluded compromise during Trump’s two years in office.
“I’m reasonably optimistic,” Blunt, a member of the conference, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think everybody’s stepped out into the new world we’re in — Republican Senate, Democratic House, new Speaker, Republican president,” he added. “The initial touching of the gloves was not producing the kind of result that we need to produce here.”
Trump, however, told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that he is doubtful Congress can come to a deal over border wall funding, adding that another government shutdown is “certainly an option.”