Trump dislikes border security deal but Republicans urge support

US President Donald Trump listens next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington February 12, 2019. — Reuters pic
US President Donald Trump listens next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington February 12, 2019. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Feb 13 — President Donald Trump said yesterday he was not happy with a deal struck by congressional negotiators on border security that denied him funds for his promised US-Mexican border wall, but did not reject it outright as fellow Republicans urged his support.

Trump's demand in December for US$5.7 billion (RM23.2 billion) from Congress to help build a wall on the southern border triggered a 35-day closure of about a quarter of the federal government. But he remains undecided about whether he will support the agreement reached on Monday night that includes US$1.37 billion for border fencing.

Nevertheless, Trump said he did not expect another shutdown, while continuing to insist he could find a way to bypass Congress and build a wall without lawmakers.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and a host of other agencies is due to expire when the calendar turns to Saturday after the expiration of a stopgap measure that ended the longest federal shutdown in US history. Monday's tentative funding agreement would keep the government open until Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

“I have to study it. I'm not happy about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House about the deal, which would need to be passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate and signed by him.

The House could vote late today at the earliest, according to a senior aide. Congress must pass the measure by Friday's midnight deadline.

Congressional Republicans have shown little appetite for another shutdown after taking heavy criticism over the prior one. “I hope he'll decide to sign it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also touted the deal.

“I don't think you're going to see a shutdown,” Trump said, but he added: “If you did have it, it's the Democrats' fault.”

But the most conservative members of the House are unhappy with the deal, a sign it could face trouble if some liberal Democrats also defect over border fencing funding and concerns about the number of beds in immigrant detention facilities.

“Most conservative members are having real heartburn today,” Republican Representative Mark Meadows said on Fox News. “I can tell you it's the Democrats that are walking around here on Capitol Hill with a smile on their face today, not Republicans.”

'We're building the wall'

Congressional sources said the agreement includes US$1.37 billion for new fencing — about the same as last year — along 90 km of the border but only with currently used designs such as “steel bollard” fencing. It also addresses capacity at immigration detention facilities, specifically the number of beds for people awaiting possible deportation.

Trump previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall, an action under which he might redirect other funds already provided by Congress to pay for wall construction. Fellow Republicans have told Trump such a step would almost certainly draw opposition, both in Congress and in the courts.

Yesterday, Trump signaled possible unilateral action.

“The bottom is on the wall: We're building the wall,” Trump said, adding: “We're supplementing things, and moving things around, and we're doing things that are fantastic and taking, really, from far-less-important areas.”

Republican James Inhofe, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he urged Trump weeks ago not to raid Pentagon accounts to build a wall. Inhofe indicated Trump could try to use Army Corps of Engineers funds.

Trump made the wall a central 2016 campaign promise, calling it necessary to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He said Mexico would pay for it, but Mexican officials rejected that. Democrats have called a wall expensive, ineffective and immoral.

McConnell, who had counselled Trump against the previous shutdown, said Democrats had abandoned “unreasonable” demands. McCarthy told CNBC that Democrats had caved by allowing the new border fencing. The border barrier funding was far short, however, of the US$5.7 billion in wall money Trump wanted and was less than Trump could have had in compromise legislation passed in December by the Senate.

Senior Democrats threw their weight behind the deal and said both sides gave ground. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said: “I strongly urge the president to sign this.”

Trump retreated last month when he agreed to end the shutdown without getting wall money. The shutdown roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay.

Democrats oppose the wall, but support border security efforts. The number of beds in detention facilities was a contentious part of the negotiations because it can either constrain or expand the administration's ability to aggressively deport more immigrants, including those seeking asylum.

Congressional aides yesterday gave differing accounts on the number of beds the deal permitted, with some saying it would drop to 40,520 by later this year and others saying it could rise to 58,500. Democrats had sought to limit the number. — Reuters