US President Donald Trump is considering a compromise federal spending bill that funds border security, but he must sign it by midnight February 15, 2019 in order to avoid a partial government shutdown (Mandel NGAN)
Washington (AFP) – US lawmakers raced to pass a compromise spending and border security plan aimed at preventing a new government shutdown set to hit Friday at midnight, a scenario Donald Trump says he too hopes to avoid.
But the president, his intentions still not set in stone, kept lawmakers in suspense as they prepared for a vote in the Senate on the massive spending package and its possible subsequent passage in the House.
Vice President Mike Pence added to the tension. Trump has been “very clear that he’s not happy with it,” Pence told reporters Thursday, adding that the president was “considering the bill.”
Trump echoed that in a tweet: “Reviewing the funding bill with my team at the @WhiteHouse!”
The measure would provide border security money including just $1.375 billion for 55 miles (88 kilometers) of new “physical barrier” construction along the US-Mexico border, a far cry from the $5.7 billion in wall funding sought by Trump — a demand that led to the recent 35-day government shutdown, the longest in US history.
It also funds until September 30 the 25 percent of government whose operations would lapse if the bill is not signed by Trump by Friday’s deadline.
With the clock ticking, Republicans spoke out about the need to get it done, with Senator Chuck Grassley lodging an impromptu plea as Congress came into session Thursday.
“Let’s all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so government doesn’t shut down,” Grassley told his colleagues.
Lawmakers finalized and released the bill late Wednesday after weeks of negotiations. The measure notably does not contain the word “wall” in its 1,165 pages, instead calling the structures physical barriers, pedestrian fencing and “levee” fencing.
In addition to the $1.375 billion for barrier construction, another $1 billion is being allocated for improving other border security technologies, upgrading facilities and boosting inspection operations at ports of entry.
The deal also allocates $563 million to hire more immigration judges to address a massive case backlog, and $415 million for humanitarian operations at the border.
Republican negotiators framed the bill as a major funding accomplishment, describing a total of $22.54 billion for border security, including the entire budgets for Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies, and salaries for hundreds of new customs officers and border patrol agents.
The language is part of a determined Republican effort to keep the bill from being characterized as a major defeat for Trump, assuring the president and his base that it gives him a substantial down payment on border security.
– Shutdown would be ‘terrible’ –
Trump said Wednesday that when the bill is released his team will scour it for potential “landmines,” but he signalled he was ready to end the impasse and move on.
“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” he said.
Trump is widely seen to have suffered politically more than Democrats over the previous shutdown fight.
But Trump also needs to assuage conservatives livid that the president retreated from his wall-funding demand, a longtime campaign pledge.
Provocative conservative author Ann Coulter lashed out at Trump for his climb down, warning that failure to build a wall would spell political disaster.
“I think it will make it extremely difficult — perhaps the word is impossible — for Trump to win re-election if he doesn’t build the wall,” Coulter said Wednesday on WOR radio’s The Mark Simone Show.
Trump has repeatedly stated he will look to other federal sources to fund his wall, noting Wednesday that the administration has access to “a lot of money” being repurposed from existing federal funds to cover unmet wall construction costs.
Pence said Trump was evaluating using “other authority he has as president of the United States to address what is a very real humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”
Democrats have warned Trump that declaring a national emergency in order to seize money from other pots, including the military, could trigger a crisis and lead to a series of legal challenges.
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