Lawmakers reach “an agreement in principle” to avert government shutdown

Posted at 4:52 AM, Feb 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-12 07:00:15-05


WASHINGTON D.C. – After hours of deliberations, Republican and Democratic appropriators said Monday night they have reached “an agreement in principle” on legislation to fund the government past the Friday deadline and avert another shutdown. The proposed measure would fund all seven remaining appropriations bills.

The deal includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers (55 miles of bollard fencing, but no wall), and a reduction in overall ICE detention beds from the current 49,057 level to 40,520, according to a congressional aide.

The agreement is already alienating members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. “While the President was giving a great speech in El Paso, Congress was putting together a bad deal on immigration,” GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, tweeted. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, called the conference agreement “hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration.”

The question is whether the White House will back the deal. Asked if the White House supported the deal, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, of Alabama, told reporters, “We hope so. We think so.”

But two senior administration officials said the White House was waiting for the details of the congressional agreement in principle. “Many details to digest,” said one official.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has talked with President Trump extensively about immigration, does not think the president will support the bill because he won’t agree to capping the ICE beds.

“I know the president will never sign a bill that caps bed space for violent offenders because that is crazy,” Graham said on Fox News’ “Hannity” Monday. “It’s dangerous. You will incentivize more illegal immigration.” He pronounced it a “bad deal. “It’s a dangerous concept,” Graham said. “The president will not agree to it. To get more wall money to limit bed space is a bad, dangerous deal.”

Lawmakers are scrambling to flesh out an agreement and have a budget measure ready before the current continuing resolution (CR) partially funding federal government operations expires Friday.

Over the weekend, talks between a bipartisan group of House and Senate negotiators, largely made up of appropriators with experience on committees with oversight of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had broken down over the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beds in detention centers — which Democrats want to cap and reduce.

Democrats reasoned that capping ICE’s detention beds would force the administration to narrow its deportation efforts, focusing on “criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the lead House Democratic negotiator, wrote in a statement. A government data clearinghouse run by Syracuse University notes in an analysis of ICE data that most ICE detainees have no criminal conviction and almost 75 percent have no serious convictions.

But President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have slammed Democrats for demanding a cap, accusing them of trying to hinder ICE’s ability to detain violent criminals. “The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!” the president wrote on Twitter Monday morning.

Mr. Trump held a rally in the Texas border city of El Paso Monday night to renew his argument for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and to implement hardline immigration policies to address what he has called a “national security crisis” near the border.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and a staunch White House ally, said Democrats had derailed negotiations over the weekend with their “open borders” stance. “Cutting down on the number of beds which would actually force them being released into the United States — and so it’s more of an open borders policy that some Democrats have supported in the past,” he said on “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Last month, the president temporarily backed off his $5.7 billion demand for border wall funding and signed a continuing resolution to fund the government for three weeks. The short-term deal ended a 35-day stalemate in budget negotiations between the White House and lawmakers and brought a temporary reprieve to approximately 800,000 workers across nine federal departments who had been furloughed or working without pay.