Congress Sprints To Pass Border Security Package With Trump's Support Unclear
Updated at 12:56 p.m. ET
Congressional leaders are prepared to vote Thursday on a $333 billion bipartisan spending package to avoid the threat of a partial government shutdown, despite mixed signals from President Trump.
The legislation, which was released early Thursday morning, includes $1.375 billion in funding for border fencing and increases in additional border security funding. The legislation also funds a number of unrelated agencies that have become part of the overall spending fight.
Democrats are celebrating the legislation as a victory over Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles of concrete wall along the U.S. Border with Mexico. The final agreement includes a fraction of that funding for steel fencing that is similar to existing barriers elsewhere on the border.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is encouraging Republicans to support the legislation anyway. He praised the agreement as a "solid deal" that is the product of a successful bipartisan process.
"The product of this work is a compromise that no side will view as a perfect deal," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Later today, I hope each of my colleagues will join me in moving forward with this."
Other top Republicans have repeated the message, even going so far as to pray the president agrees.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, spoke up after the daily morning prayer on Thursday with an amendment of his own.
"Let's all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so government doesn't shut down," Grassley said before leading the chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Top congressional negotiators say the compromise includes carefully tailored border spending, allowing both parties to selectively celebrate portions of the bill.
Republicans, like Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., have focused heavily on the investment in 55 miles of new border fencing.
"This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall," Shelby said in a statement. "I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this package so we can demonstrate to the American people that we are here to work together and do our jobs."
Democrats say the money falls far short of Trump's original demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall. The bill has restrictions on where the fencing can be built, including explicit protections for sites like a butterfly refuge in the Rio Grande Valley.
The Homeland Security funding bill would also reduce the number of immigration detention beds from roughly 49,060 to roughly 40,000 over the course of a year. Detention beds became a major issue in the negotiations after Democrats sought to curb aggressive immigration enforcement in exchange for more overall spending on border security.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., point to new spending on humanitarian aid at the border and increased border technology as victories in the bill.
"This agreement denies funding for President Trump's border wall and includes several key measures to make our immigration system more humane," Lowey said in the statement. "It also rejects the President's irresponsible budget cuts and instead invests in priorities that will strengthen our families, communities, and economy, like public safety, support for small businesses, environmental protection, transportation, housing and robust American global leadership."
Negotiators were confident the package could pass in Congress, but Trump has been vague about his support.
"I don't want to see a shutdown, a shutdown would be a terrible thing," Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque. "I think a point was made with the last shutdown, people realized how bad the border is. How unsafe the border is. And I think a lot of good points were made. But I don't want to see another one, there's no reason for it."
Deputy White House Communications Director Adam Kennedy told NPR's Morning Edition that Trump "doesn't want his hands tied on border security" and his support is contingent upon learning further details of the bill.
"I think the president is going to fully review the bill," Kennedy said. "I think he wants to review it before he signs it."
It is unclear whether the agreement will have widespread support among House Republicans in particular. The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., has criticized the agreement as failing to meet Trump's border demands.
At least one Republican negotiator, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., refused to sign the report on the agreement and signal his support for the deal.
Graves said he needed more time to read the package before he could decide whether he supports the policies.
The legislation includes a number of funding changes for programs ranging from border security to energy and environment.
The spending bills include $9.3 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $17 billion in new infrastructure funding, a $1.8 billion spending increase for the 2020 census and a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal workers.
However, negotiators were unable to agree on a number of priorities they hoped to include as add-ons to the spending bill. Talks broke down over a measure to provide back pay for federal contractors who missed paychecks during the last shutdown, according to several aides familiar with the talks.
That failure forced them to abandon all unrelated policies, like funding for disaster aid and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
Leaders plan to try to address those issues separately, and grants under the Violence Against Women Act will continue to be funded, according to several leadership aides.
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