By Erica Werner, John Wagner, Mike DeBonis, Washington Post–
House Democrats are prepared to support new levels of border security funding, but not a wall, if President Trump agrees to reopen the government first, lawmakers and aides said Wednesday.
The proposal, which Democrats plan to put into a formal letter to Trump, will include border security improvements such as retrofitting ports of entry, new sensors and drones, more immigration judges and border patrol agents, and additional technology, among other measures.
The letter was not final and the exact figure Democrats will suggest was not yet determined, but aides said it would be higher than the levels Democrats have supported in the past, which have ranged from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.
Some Democrats suggested they would even be willing to meet Trump’s request for $5.7 billion — as long as it goes for technology and other improvements, not the physical wall the president is seeking.
“If you look at all of the things that we’re proposing — more judges, more border patrol, this new technology — these are the kinds of things that we are going to be putting forward, and I think that they can be done using the figure that the president has put on the table,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters Wednesday.
“If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it through what I like to call using a ‘smart wall’,” Clyburn said.
The development indicated a new desire on the part of House Democrats to discuss the types of border security measures they support, instead of just standing in opposition to Trump’s wall. It comes on Day 33 of a partial government shutdown as Trump and congressional Democrats remain at loggerheads over his demand for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border. During his campaign, Trump said at least 212 times that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
Democrats are under intense pressure from their constituents to bring the shutdown to an end, leading to a search for proactive steps the caucus can take beyond passing spending bills to reopen government without funding the wall. The House has been passing such bills all month and will do so again this week.
There is also new action in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up competing votes for Thursday.
One is on a proposal from Trump to reopen the government while spending $5.7 billion on the wall and making additional changes to the immigration system, including new restrictions on the asylum program and temporary deportation relief to certain unauthorized immigrants including the so-called “dreamers” brought illegally to the country as kids.
The other scheduled vote is on a Democratic measure to reopen the government through Feb. 8 without funding the wall, but creating the space to negotiate on border security with the government open.
Neither measure is expected to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Fox News Channel that Democrats should support the Trump proposal.
“The plan includes things that Democrats have specifically said they wanted to see, things that we know they want. It’s outrageous that they wouldn’t support a plan that does all of the things that they claim to want,” Sanders said.
“Democrats have got to stop playing politics. Nancy Pelosi has got to start putting the American people ahead of partisan politics.”
Shortly before the shutdown began, the full Senate passed a bill like the one Democrats will push Thursday to reopen the government for a short period without funding the wall. But amid conservative backlash Trump turned against it, resulting in the shutdown that began Dec. 22 and has become the longest in U.S. history.
“Every Americans ought to be disappointed and angry that there are two people shutting down this government: Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).