Top lawmakers to meet to revive stalled border talks with shutdown days away

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Top lawmakers to meet to revive stalled border talks with shutdown days away

Key lawmakers plan to meet Monday afternoon in a late-stage bid to avert a government shutdown, trying to revive talks that derailed over the weekend amid a dispute on immigration enforcement rules.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) will attend the meeting, two congressional aides said.

Lawmakers had hoped to reach an agreement by midday Monday, a timeline they thought was sufficient to win House and Senate approval this week. But talks broke down over the weekend, leading to acrimonious finger-pointing and angry outbursts from President Trump.

To avert a partial shutdown set to begin Saturday, the House and Senate must pass identical spending bills that Trump would then need to sign into law.

Trump’s demands for funds to build a border wall, which prompted the previous government shutdown, are not the central sticking point in the current impasse. Instead, the two sides are at odds over Democrats’ attempt to impose a new cap on detentions of immigrants apprehended within the country — as opposed to at the border.

Republicans want to exclude immigrants charged with or convicted of certain crimes from the cap, arguing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might not otherwise have the ability to detain dangerous criminals. Democrats say excluding people from the cap would render it toothless, as they seek to rein in the Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement policies.

Trump administration officials said on Sunday that the chances of another government shutdown had increased markedly over the weekend. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Monday said Democrats’ demands were to blame for the renewed risk of a shutdown.

“The president is not a part of these negotiations. He’s waiting for a bill to come to his desk that he can sign into law,” she said. Democrats are “the ones hurtling us toward a shutdown.”

Lawmakers frequently run up against deadlines to pass spending bills, but it’s unclear whether they can rely on the most commonly used fallback plans this time. Often, lawmakers will seek to pass short-term spending bills that last for several weeks in order to buy more time for negotiations. But they have already done that several times in recent months, and it’s unclear whether there are votes to do it again.

Trump has readied a plan to declare a national emergency on the southern border, which he believes will allow him to redirect taxpayer money from other projects in order to build parts of a wall — without approval from Congress.

White House officials have said they would give the current negotiations a chance to succeed before moving forward with their plan, but they haven’t revealed an openness to delaying any longer.

The meeting comes at a pivotal time. Trump plans to travel to Texas on Monday for a rally and is expected to restate his case for tougher immigration rules. Republicans in Congress have tried to avoid Trump’s hard-line rhetoric during negotiations, but his support is crucial for a final deal.

The president on Monday attacked Democrats on Twitter, alleging Democrats are trying to create new protections for illegal immigrants with criminal records.

“The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!” he wrote.

But Democrats have said this mischaracterizes their position. They said the White House’s insistence on excluding people charged or convicted of crimes, even nonviolent drug offenses, would give the White House almost limitless power to detain people and make existing rules irrelevant.

A number of federal departments are only funded through Friday, and lawmakers are trying to agree on a long-term spending bill that would ensure these departments have money through September.

The negotiations have largely centered on spending and rules for the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has said rules must be overhauled to stop people from entering the U.S. illegally from Mexico. He wants a wall and other rule changes.

Lowey, Shelby, Granger and Leahy are top members of a congressional conference committee tasked with working out differences between Democrats and Republicans.

Negotiations had looked promising for days before unraveling on Saturday amid the fight between Democrats and Republicans over the number of unauthorized immigrants who can be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Both sides immediately began blaming each other for the impasse. The meeting Monday is an effort to broker a last-minute deal, though congressional aides and White House officials did not express optimism that an easy solution was within reach.

A partial shutdown could have a broad impact on the country. Not only would funding lapse for the Department of Homeland Security on Saturday, but it would hit a number of other agencies, including the Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Agriculture and Interior departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.

During the last government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, 2018, and lasted 35 days, 800,000 federal employees went without pay. Many of them were still ordered to come into work, without pay, for the duration of the shutdown in order to minimize the impact on the public.

At the beginning of talks, lawmakers looked for ways to avoid conflict over Trump’s demand that $5.7 billion in taxpayer money must be used to build parts of a wall along the Mexico border. The White House recently signaled to Republicans that it didn’t need such funds appropriated anymore, because it believed it could legally reappropriate money from other accounts to build the wall. Moving money from one account to another could be challenged in court, but top White House officials have said they are prepared for legal challenges.

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