This post has been updated to reflect developments on Tuesday morning during a photo op with President Donald Trump, Parliamentary Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
A photoshoot that preceded a meeting between President Trump and Congressional Democrats turned into an extraordinary debate in front of the cameras as the two sides appeared to dig into their respective positions on border security, hinting at a shutdown of the government a few days before Christmas.
The ongoing political struggle over the US-Mexico border region has taken center stage as President Trump has pledged a partial government shutdown if he does not get $ 5 billion to fund the border wall he promised during the campaign. The buildup of this fight began unusually in front of cameras as the leaders sat down together. But Texans in the House on both sides call the showdown a pointless fight over a pointless idea.
“I think to say that a closure is a good thing is bad policy and it is bad policy,” said Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes who represents over 800 miles from the border and has been one of the GOP’s main critiques of Trump’s wall. proposal. “The reality is that both sides, the President and the Democrats in Congress, need to start thinking about win-win solutions rather than a win-lose solution. It seems that the people involved in this negotiation want to win and they want the other party to lose.
Democrats on the Texas border are taking a much more aggressive stance as the party prepares for a majority in the House after January 3. Their starting point in the negotiations on the financing of the wall is zero. Twelve Democrats representing the border areas of Texas, led by Representative Henry Cuellar de Laredo, made this point in a letter of November 28 to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Any credit for a border wall would have unequivocal deleterious economic, diplomatic and environmental effects on the region. We believe Democrats should oppose any funding for a physical wall along the US-Mexico border in the fiscal year 2019 appropriation program. ” Cuellar has an exceptionally strong hand to play as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which stands in the midst of the battle for funding. Cuellar said Texas monthly that he currently has no figures in mind that he is willing to accept for the financing of the wall, but that he is ready to negotiate.
The letter sparked a dispute with Schumer because Democrats in Texas said they were writing to the top Senate Democrat “to express our concern and opposition to your comments that $ 1.6 billion for a physical wall on the along the border is the starting negotiating position for any Democrat. . ” Politico reported that Schumer asked Cuellar and the other Texans to withdraw their letter, claiming they were twisting his position. Schumer’s spokesperson said the $ 1.6 billion agreed to by Senate Democrats was for border security measures other than a wall. The Texans, however, held on.
The struggle for funding could also become a first test for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is still struggling to secure enough votes to become Speaker of the House in January. Although she is clearly the first to become a speaker, The Washington Post reports that she still does not have enough votes – something she is stubbornly trying to rectify before the new Congress is called in January. In this context, a letter recently sent to Pelosi by two congressmen from South Texas – Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville – carries political overtones that go beyond the fight to suspend funding for the wall. “We are writing to respectfully request that you exercise your leadership and take a strong stand against the funding of physical barriers along our southern borders,” said an Letter of December 6 signed by the two members of Congress said. “We ask that you make it clear to Senate leadership that funding the physical barriers along the southern border is a no-starter.” The letter ended with a second appeal to Pelosi to exercise leadership on the issue.
President Trump has signed a number of supply bills this year, including major bills for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. But six supply bills are still before Congress, including money for the Department of Homeland Security, where any funding for the wall would fall. The Republican-controlled House has supported $ 5 billion for the border wall. This large appropriation, combined with the appropriation of $ 1.6 billion from the previous fiscal year, is sufficient to prevent a region from Falcon Lake south-east of Laredo to Boca Chica Beach, south of Brownsville, critics say. In the Senate, where Democrats have more power due to filibuster, the Appropriations Committee approved $ 1.6 billion for “Pedestrian fence” in the Rio Grande valley.
The original deadline for passing spending bills to avoid a government shutdown was December 7, but President Trump signed a two-week extension passed by Congress due to the former president’s funeral. George HW Bush. The new deadline is December 21, four days before Christmas. Shortly after signing the extension, Trump said, “Congress must fully fund border security in the year-end funding bill,” including $ 5 billion for the wall. He has repeatedly threatened to partially shut down the government if he does not get the money, but he has waived similar threats in the past.
Senior Texas Senator John Cornyn said a shutdown made no sense. But he did not take a position on financing the wall. “Well, we’ve seen this movie before,” he said on a recent call with reporters. “Closing the government doesn’t solve the problem because at some point you have to reopen the government and you still have the same problem staring you in the face. So I hope cooler heads will prevail.
One idea that has been hinted at several times over the past year is that of a compromise that would call on Democrats to accept funding for the border wall while Republicans agree to permanently legalize the status of so-called “dreamers.” », People who arrived in the country illegally as children. These people are currently protected by an executive action by then President Obama, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Trump has decided to end DACA, but this is being challenged in the courts. Old Washington post owner Don Graham recently wrote a opinion piece in his old newspaper calling on Democrats and Republicans to trade the wall for dreamers. “Do it, Congress. Do it now, ”Graham wrote. But many critics have expressed concern that the Dreamers are being used as a political bargaining chip.
Hurd, the only Republican member of Texas House representing the border, believes something similar to Graham’s proposal could win support in the House and Senate, but not a significant sum for physical barriers at the border. He said the outlines of a deal that could win bipartisan support are well known and now include protection for hundreds of thousands of immigrants on the verge of deportation as they lose. temporary protection status, or TPS. “This is a permanent DACA solution for a million young men and women who have only known the United States of America as their homes. This is solid funding from the Department of Homeland Security to make everything include technology. I think the price for the president to get some of what he wants in border security, you have to put TPS in the mix and have a permanent solution to the TPS problem. “
The Dreamers-for-a-Wall deal is a non-starter for members of the Democratic House on the Texas border. El Paso Representative Beto O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz this year, said a group of around 50 Dreamers came to Washington earlier this year to advocate for their cause. “What really struck me was that all, to one person, said they didn’t want to trade their parents’ status for deportation for their status or their ability to be on the path to deportation. citizenship, ”O’Rourke said. “And they all told one person that they didn’t want to trade their communities for guaranteed status in the country. In other words, they didn’t want a wall. They did not want this to be the cost of their ability to live without the fear of deportation. “
El Paso’s elected Representative Veronica Escobar, who will succeed O’Rourke in the House next month, said Democrats ceded too much ground to Republicans in the border security debate. “I was told (increased border security spending) that the polls were good and members in tough seats told me it was a very tough thing for me because the polls were so good . And my response was, that sounds good because Democrats sound like Republicans, because we continue to join them in their calls to quote without quotes securing the border, ”Escobar said. “We have a wall. Border Patrol and ICE have grown significantly over the past decade. Fears at the border are still low when we look at the last decade. And so that’s something that sounds good because we haven’t changed the conversation. It’s time to change the way we talk about this and talk about the reality, the huge investment (already made in border security) and the fact that we are in the best place where they want us to be safe. And we need to move on to the next part of this conversation, which is immigration reform and protecting our Dreamers.