A group of 17 lawmakers on Capitol Hill will meet for the first time Wednesday afternoon to figure out how to avert a government shutdown by February 15 and how to offer both President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats a deal on border security and immigration, an issue that has bedeviled Washington for years.
Trump attempted to sway the debate hours before they met, tweeting in the early morning, “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”
After about 800,000 federal workers went two pay periods without paychecks, Trump agreed Friday to temporarily reopen the government after a 35-day shutdown even though the bill to end it did not include his highest priority, $5.7 billion to build a wall on the southern border. His tweet was a reminder that he could force another shutdown if he opposes Congress’ consensus on border security.
Republican and Democratic congressional leaders urged Trump Wednesday to let the group do its work. Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, “I think we ought to give them some room to negotiate this.”
When asked if Trump should stay out of the negotiations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “He should sign the bill.”
“I think a conference committee can reach a good result left to its own devices without interference from anybody else,” the California Democrat told CNN. “I have confidence in the appropriators.”
In a private meeting with freshman Democrats Wednesday, Pelosi did not draw a red line in the spending talks, saying she has faith in the conference negotiators to reach an agreement, according to two attendees. Pelosi also discussed poll numbers showing the President upside down on a number of issues, suggesting Democrats won the argument over the shutdown.
The negotiators are 17 members of the House and Senate who serve on committees to appropriate government funding, dealmakers who rarely come from the hardline elements of either side of the party. Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee came to a bipartisan agreement on a homeland security bill — that included $1.6 billion in border security including funds for fencing and barrier repairs. But Trump has lately called for much more funding to build the wall.
While the negotiators believe they could come up with a compromise, they went into the meeting not knowing how their respective party’s leadership will ultimately shape the debate.
“My goal would be to fund the government,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby earlier this week. The Alabama Republican added he couldn’t “preclude” whether some immigration proposals, such as extending legal protections to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, would be negotiated because Trump, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “might want to get involved.”
On Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that Congress could reach a deal, but “if the President has the last word, it may not be enough” to avert a shutdown.
Trump himself has put the conference committee’s odds of success at “less than 50-50.”
-Alex Rogers and Manu Raju reporting for CNN
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