WASHINGTON – Lawmakers negotiating to avoid another government shutdown reached an agreement “in principle” to keep federal agencies open after Friday, when current federal funding is set to expire.
The bipartisan group did not provide details of the agreement on Monday and did not indicate whether President Donald Trump supports it. Trump has sought $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a demand Democrats oppose. The bipartisan group has been in talks since last month over a possible compromise on border security.
The emerging agreement was announced by a group of lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, after a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.
The lawmakers announced the deal minutes before Trump was set to take the stage for a political rally in El Paso, Texas – his first since the November midterm election.
“We’re talking about serious, serious, serious things, and we hopefully making some progress,” Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters earlier at the Capitol after the group met for a second time Monday.
The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally. Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall (they overrode recommendations of Border Patrol experts), but they don’t even want to take muderers into custody! What’s going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2019
The bipartisan group is part of a bicameral committee of appropriators selected to find a solution that can pass Congress and get support from the president before some of the government’s funding lapses Friday at midnight.
“I don’t think Democrats or Republicans want a shutdown. One option or another, we will resolve this,” Lowey said earlier in the day.
Until this past weekend, the biggest sticking point for the group had been how to deal with the president’s demand for a $5.7 billion wall along the southern border. During the last shutdown, Democrats refused to give him the money, saying the wall would be costly and ineffective.
Last week, they explored a compromise involving some sort of structure, though the figures discussed were far less than Trump’s initial request.
On Sunday, the talks hit a snag amid disagreement over Democrats’ demands for a cap on detentions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Democrats said ICE routinely detains more immigrants than it needs to, imprisoning those who don’t have criminal backgrounds and pose no threat to national or domestic security. That’s why they want to set a hard cap on the number of immigrants ICE detains, the goal being to force the agency to focus its resources on violent criminals.
“This agency needs checks and balances, so the Republicans want to get more wall money and Democrats want to get controls on ICE. This is what a negotiation looks like,” said Kerri Talbot of the advocacy group Immigration Hub.
Republicans said a detention cap would force the release of undocumented immigrants in custody and warned of the risk that many might not show up for scheduled hearings on whether they should be deported.
Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE, said a cap on ICE detainees would be “damaging to public safety.”
“We will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens sitting in our custody” if the cap is put in place, Albence said.
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump accused the Democrats of a brand new demand, and he told reporters ICE was “very disrespected by the Democrats.”
The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2019
Later in the morning, on the Senate floor, McConnell piled on, accusing Democrats of “a poison-pill demand” at “the 11th hour.”
Lowey expressed surprise at McConnell’s comments Monday afternoon: “I’ve worked with Mitch McConnell, and we’ve accomplished a lot together. I’m sorry that is his interpretation of where things are.”
House Democrats pointed out that the 16,500 cap on ICE beds has been part of the Democrats’ proposal since it was first included in their opening offer Jan. 31.
“How the government deals with ICE is a very important issue, and that’s why the beds are so critical to this negotiation, period,” Lowey said.
Contributing: Associated Press, Alan Gomez, John Fritze
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