WASHINGTON >> House Democratic leaders said today that they were prepared to offer President Donald Trump a substantial sum of money for border security — perhaps even the $5.7 billion he has requested — but not for a wall and not until he agreed to reopen the government.
“We are going to be talking about substantial sums of money to secure our border,” Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, told reporters.
Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No 3. Democrat, told reporters separately that Democrats could back a $5.7 billion funding measure that included drones and refitted ports of entry — but no wall. That is the amount Trump has demanded for the wall he wants to build on the southwestern border.
“Using the figure the president put on the table, 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,” he said.
The Democratic-controlled House is poised today to pass legislation including an additional $1.5 billion for border security, which would help fund 75 new immigration judges and their staffs, and improvements in infrastructure at ports of entry. But separately, top Democrats are preparing a letter to Trump that will outline a broader, and more expensive, vision for border security.
That letter is expected to be ready in the coming days. And while Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, did not say today how much money Democrats were willing to spend, Clyburn proffered the highest Democratic number yet, “so long as it’s done smartly, not just done to fulfill a campaign promise that never should have been made in the first place — unless you’re going to keep the full campaign promise, which is have Mexico pay for it.”
With the shutdown now in its second month and 800,000 federal employees about to miss a second paycheck, pressure is rising on both parties to reopen the government. The Senate will vote Thursday on two separate proposals: One, backed by Trump, would include $5.7 billion for the wall and extend protections to some immigrants in the country illegally while sharply curtailing access to asylum. The other, backed by Democrats, would simply fund shuttered government agencies through Feb. 8, with no wall money.
It is unlikely that either of those measures will muster the 60 votes necessary for passage. But some lawmakers in both parties think that if both fail, it will open a path to negotiations that could resolve the shutdown stalemate.
In the House, Democrats emerged from a closed-door meeting this morning seemingly united in their demand that Trump agree to open the government before negotiations begin over border security. Many Democrats said that if they gave in to the president, they would reward him for the shutdown, sending a message that he can shutter the government in the future to get what he wants.
“There’s an overwhelming consensus that this is about establishing that shutdowns are wrong,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. “From my standpoint, and I think this is the consensus of the caucus, everything is negotiable. Border security is negotiable. Immigration policy is negotiable. Shutting down the government is not negotiable, and we’re angry about it.”
Malinowski went on: “If we give in to this tactic in any way we will validate it, and there will be no end to these shutdowns, and the people who suffer today will be suffering again and again and again. We cannot have that.”
Both Hoyer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, seemed to leave the door open for eventual negotiations to include talk of some kind of border barrier — so long as the government is open first.
When asked point-blank if Democrats would agree to talk about a wall, Jeffries did not say no but reiterated Democratic talking points about what the party favors: new scanning technology to detect drugs and weapons; improvements in infrastructure at ports of entry; and more personnel, including more immigration judges.
Hoyer was asked whether Democrats might consider permanent protections for the young immigrants in the country illegally known as Dreamers, in exchange for “some new physical barriers.” He said it was clear that Trump would put money for a wall on the negotiating table.
“It’s clear what the president wants; it’s clear what we want,” he said. “If you have a negotiation, both parties are going to put on the table what they want.”