WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican lawmakers emerged from a series of meetings Monday night and announced they had reached a deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year and to avert another government shutdown, according to CNN.
Talks between four lawmakers — two Senators and two members of the House — produced a preliminary agreement, with details to be announced Tuesday.
“We got an agreement on all of it,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters.
Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. ,worked with the lead House negotiators — Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Tex. — to reach the “preliminary agreement.” The larger, 17-member committee that had conducted a series of meetings in recent days wasn’t part of those talks.
The fate of the deal, however, will depend on agreement from the administration. Leahy and Shelby did not explain how they resolved the most thorny outstanding issues, including a dispute over the number of undocumented immigrants Immigration and Customs Enforcement can hold in detention. Asked whether the White House would support the deal, Shelby said, “We think so. We hope so.”
The first shutdown, which ended Jan. 25 after 35 days, the longest in history, centered around a dispute over how much money Congress would allocate for border security. But talks now are hung up over a disagreement over how many immigrants can be held at one time by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The White House wants to increase the number of beds for detention up to 52,000 from the current level funded by Congress, which is for 40,520 beds. Democrats want to reduce that number down to 35,520 beds for the remainder of 2019, and they want to cap the number of beds that can be used for undocumented immigrants arrested in the interior of the country — not on the border — at 16,500.
ICE is currently holding 48,747 immigrants, an agency spokesman told Yahoo News. The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said the agency “has some flexibility” to go above the number funded by Congress.
Democrats argue that the cap on beds for interior arrests would force the Trump administration to focus on detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants who are actually violent or dangerous criminals, and put a stop to the practice of wholesale raids that sweep up immigrants guilty of minor offenses — or none at all, except for being in the country illegally in the first place.
Shelby, before the Monday sessions, said that “the ICE stuff is kind of a big obstacle.”
Trump claimed Monday that the Democrats’ position on beds means they are soft on illegal immigration.
“The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens!” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “This is a brand new demand. Crazy!”
Matthew Albence, ICE’s acting deputy director, told reporters on a conference call arranged Monday afternoon by the White House that if a cap on beds was implemented, the agency would “be forced to release criminal aliens that are currently sitting in our custody.”
“We’d be releasing gang members. We’ll be releasing individuals convicted of domestic violence and drug crimes,” Albence said.
Albence could not provide figures for how many people currently in detention were arrested in the interior of the country after committing violent crimes.
During the most recent shutdown, around 380,000 federal employees were furloughed and another 420,000 had to work without pay, according to CNN.
A second shutdown would hit as the Internal Revenue Service is in the midst of processing income tax returns — and refunds. The IRS would not be funded during a shutdown, and so workers — whose annual salaries range from $25,800 to $51,000 — would not be paid. They would be expected to work without pay, but during the first shutdown many did not show up for work.
Trump’s approval rating took a hit during the shutdown. The FiveThirtyEight average of all public polling showed the president’s approval slip from just under 43 percent in late November to 39.3 percent by the end of the shutdown. His disapproval went from 51.7 percent in mid-December to 56 percent.
That may discourage the White House from forcing a second shutdown. Rather than make a stand on its demand for a $5.7 billion appropriation for a border wall, the administration is reportedly continuing to explore the option of declaring a national emergency to allow it to reallocate funds for border security.
Such a move by the president would provoke an immediate legal challenge, and even many congressional Republicans are wary of setting what could be a dangerous precedent.
“The president has very little legal ability to get this done,” said one Republican operative with ties to the White House.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a member of the House Republican leadership, told Yahoo News that he does not think the president should pursue a wall through emergency powers.
“I don’t think it’s the best first choice,” he said on “The Long Game” podcast.
McHenry, however, was pessimistic that Congress would reach a deal now, and hopes it will pass another series of continuing resolutions to fund the government until late spring or early summer. At that time the need to raise the federal debt ceiling could provide a “lever” to reach a “broader consensus” on government funding.
“Later in this calendar year we have a better opportunity for larger issues to be resolved,” McHenry said.
Another Republican lawmaker, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, told a federal employee union Monday that she is dead set against another shutdown.
“Never again,” Murkowski told the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents over 670,000 workers.
The AFGE’s president, J. David Cox, said he is planning to send members to protest at the offices of U.S. senators, and even possibly at the home of White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
“We know where Mr. Mulvaney lives, and we know what time he goes to work, and we’ll be right there as he comes out of his house, chasing him all the way to work,” Cox told reporters.
Trump was set to rally supporters in El Paso, Texas, Monday night, stoking the passions of his political base in a city he claimed last week, falsely, to be one of the most dangerous in the country until a border wall was built in 2008.
El Paso, in fact, was ranked among the least dangerous cities compared with others its size before a barrier was built on nearby sections of the border, and that ranking hasn’t changed, according to the New York Times.
Also in El Paso Monday evening, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke was set to hold a rally of his own to counter the president’s appearance. O’Rourke, a Democrat, narrowly lost his bid last fall for the U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and in the process became a national celebrity for Democrats.
O’Rourke tweeted Sunday that his rally would be intended “to celebrate our community.”
“The country will be watching, and it falls on all of us to tell the true story about the border,” O’Rourke said.