Trump, Democrats Stand Firm on Opposite Sides of Border Wall
While President Donald Trump resolutely demanded wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border, Democratic lawmakers rejected a White House proposal with wall funding and temporary immigration provisions that would end a partial government shutdown now in its second month.
"Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security," Trump tweeted Tuesday.
At the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, promised votes Thursday on Trump's proposals, contained in a 1,200-page bill unveiled by Republicans.
The Senate will also vote on a Democratic proposal for stopgap federal funding through Feb. 8. Both bills would require bipartisan support to pass.
"The opportunity to end all this is staring us right in the face," McConnell said, describing the bill as "the only proposal, the only one currently before us that can be signed by the president and immediately reopen the government."
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for a compromise.
"This shutdown will tragically continue until there's another side willing to negotiate," he said. "It requires both sides to compromise. … The president has taken the first step."
Democrats, who can block most legislation in the Senate, heaped scorn on the proposal, noting it would only temporarily suspend the threat of deportation for a fraction of immigrants brought illegally to America as children — a group placed at risk by Trump's own executive orders.
"The president's proposal is one-sided, harshly partisan, and was made in bad faith," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. "Now offering some temporary protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise, it's more hostage-taking … like bargaining for stolen goods."
Even if the White House package cleared the Senate, it would be dead on arrival at the Democratic-led House of Representatives, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who called it "a nonstarter" and promised House votes on border security bills that do not include wall funding.
McConnell cautioned Democrats against a rush to judgment on the Senate Republican bill.
"To reject this proposal, Democrats would have to prioritize political combat with the president ahead of federal workers, ahead of DACA recipients, ahead of border security, and ahead of stable and predictable government funding. Is that really a price that Democrats want to pay to prolong this episode?" he said.
While the Republican bill appears unlikely to become law, it could be a starting point for further negotiations and deliberations, said one Democrat.
"I do believe it is a proposal that deserves to be treated seriously," Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said, adding that the bill should go through committee and be subject to amendments by senators of both parties in order to attract bipartisan support.
"These are issues we could debate. These are issues where amendments could be offered and we could find, I believe, a compromise," Kaine said. "We ought to have that discussion and offer Democrats and Republicans the ability to take some sandpaper to it and try to make it better."
The shutdown has furloughed 800,000 government employees, with at least 420,000 forced to continue working without pay and the remainder sent home, some of whom have been forced to look for temporary work elsewhere to help pay their household bills. All are set to miss their second biweekly paycheck on Friday.
Some government services have been curtailed, as about 10 percent of airport security agents ordered to work have instead called in sick, some food inspections have been cut back, and museums and parks are closed. Federal courts could run out of money by Friday.
Ruling on DACA
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the Trump administration a setback. The court ruled it would not immediately act on an administration request to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by former President Barack Obama that protects nearly 700,000 so-called "Dreamers" from deportation.
Various proposals to end the stalemate between Trump and Democrats opposed to his wall along part of the 3,200-kilometer border with Mexico have gone nowhere. Democrats have demanded that he reopen the government and then negotiate border security measures, but Trump has refused.
The Senate Republican proposal includes $5.7 billion for Trump's wall, a favorite pledge of his during his successful 2016 run for the White House, although he has abandoned his claim that Mexico would pay directly for it and now is seeking U.S. taxpayer funding. He says the border barrier is needed to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
The Republican plan would add 750 Border Patrol agents and 375 customs officers, as well as technology upgrades at ports of entry.
It also would boost funding for immigration enforcement, including adding 2,000 law enforcement, support and legal personnel, and thousands of vehicles.
Rules for children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum would become stricter. The proposal calls for those minors to apply for asylum at one of several processing centers to be set up in Central America.
Republicans say the changes would reduce the incentives for people to make the dangerous trip to seek asylum at the U.S. border.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed several bills aimed at reopening the government, but McConnell has refused to put them up for a vote in the chamber because Trump does not support them. House Democrats are promising to vote for more border security measures this week, but none that includes money for Trump's wall.
Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill and Steve Herman at the White House contributed to this report.