Originally Published in The New York Times.
Jan. 30, 2019
WASHINGTON — One thousand new customs officers at ports of entry, imaging technology to scan every vehicle coming into the country, increased spending on the Coast Guard, Secret Service and other agencies, and new technology at mail processing facilities to find fentanyl and other opioids — but nothing for a wall at the southwestern border.
House Democrats laid out the general terms of their offer for toughening border security on Wednesday as House and Senate negotiators met for the first time to find a deal before Feb. 15 that can prevent another government shutdown. But the Democrats’ opening bid showed how far the parties have to go in the next two weeks, and no one seems sure of what President Trump will or will not sign.
“Border security is more than physical barriers, and homeland security is more than border security,” said Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with homeland security. She later told reporters after the meeting that while Democrats have supported funding fencing in the past, they wanted to examine technological innovations that could be used in place of fences.
Mr. Trump, weighing in on the negotiations hours before they were scheduled to begin, warned on Twitter that if the group was not “discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”
While not yet finalized, the House Democratic proposal served as an opening bid. The emphasis was on technology and improving existing operations, such as expanding the Border Patrol’s air and marine operations, increasing “risk-based” targeting of passengers and cargo at ports of entry, bolstering the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preparedness programs, improving the Transportation Security Administration’s threat detection capabilities at security checkpoints and even funding a new Coast Guard polar icebreaker.
“Nothing can be considered in a vacuum,” Ms. Roybal-Allard said. “More funding for one priority means less for others.”
“There are serious homeland security vulnerabilities for which we will have no funding if the president gets his way,” she added.
Democrats also insisted on their own priorities beyond homeland security. They proposed new funding to improve Customs and Border Protection’s care for migrants in the agency’s custody, expanding an “alternatives to detention” program at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep families together while reducing the number of ICE detention beds and requiring more frequent detention-facility inspections.
Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, declined to say whether Democrats would block any money for barriers or fencing, telling reporters after the meeting that “everything is on the table” and that she did not want to get ahead of the negotiations. A day earlier, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 Democrat in the House, told reporters that the party would be “willing to support fencing where it makes sense” if derived from “an evidence-based fashion.”
During the meeting, however, there was little mention of a wall. Republicans spoke of physical barriers placed, as Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, put it, “where it makes sense.”
Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, said, “I suspect we might have some discussions about terminology and the words we use.”
“Whether it’s deterrents, whether it’s obstructions, whether it’s walls, whether it’s barriers, I think we’re all here for a very narrow scope,” he added.
Lawmakers from both parties signaled that they would be open to a broad package that combined the smart technology promoted by Democrats and the physical barriers that could pacify Mr. Trump.
“I think it’s going to take a comprehensive approach,” Senator Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “And I think that would be part of it.”
Some members on the committee raised the prospect of visiting the border. Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas and the only member of the committee from a border district, displayed photos of the mountains and rivers stretching through the Texas border as he argued that a wall would not work.
But after a bruising and record-breaking shutdown, the 17 negotiators said they wanted to prove that bipartisan success was possible.
“Doing our job means by definition nobody gets everything they want,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “This is our first real test.”“I think it’s going to take a comprehensive approach,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers from both parties signaled that they would be open to a broad package that combined elements for the border.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times
Across the Capitol, senators from both parties agreed that any kind of deal would be preferable to another shutdown.
“I’m for narrow or broader,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Tuesday when asked what he felt was an appropriate scope for a final deal. “I’m for whatever works that prevents the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month.”
But lawmakers disagreed on the mechanism to prevent another funding lapse.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and a member of the negotiating panel, known as a conference committee, told his colleagues that if their final deal included language that “put an end to government shutdowns once and for all, count me in.”
Multiple lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would prevent funding lapses if spending bills were not completed in time. Among them: a bill that Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, has introduced every session since 2012 that would automatically continue funding for a short time without a formal spending bill; and the Stop Stupidity Act proposed by Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, which would automatically maintain funding for all aspects of the government except the executive and legislative branches.
But prominent Democrats in the House, including Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, and Ms. Lowey rejected such automatic stopgap spending measures as a dereliction of Congress’s constitutional power of the purse.
“Congress ought to do its job,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday. “I personally am reticent about automatic bills that in effect take Congress out of having to make decisions.”
Even a ceremonial resolution declaring that “shutdowns are detrimental to the nation and should not occur,” proposed by Representative Jennifer Wexton, Democrat of Virginia, failed to win the two-thirds majority required to pass it Wednesday under expedited House rules.
Only 21 Republicans voted for the resolution, and 163 opposed it. Several Republicans had lobbied for the removal of certain language singling out Mr. Trump for his role in forcing the government shutdown, Ms. Wexton said, and members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus took to the floor to protest the resolution.
But even with the offending language removed, an overwhelming majority of the Republicans voted against the ceremonial measure and subsequently in favor of keeping the shutdown tool alive as a bargaining chip. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, condemned the resolution on the House floor as “a glorified press release.”
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.