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Pelosi says she would accept a bipartisan deal on border security

President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Doug Mills / The New York Times via AP)
President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Doug Mills / The New York Times via AP)
By John Wagner, Mike Debonis and Erica Werner The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that she would be willing to support any compromise border-security legislation that emerges from a bipartisan committee and that she has urged the White House to adopt the same “hands-off” posture.

Her comments come as congressional negotiators are seeking a deal that has to be approved by Feb. 15 – and satisfy President Donald Trump’s demand for border-wall funding – to avert another partial government shutdown.

Pelosi told reporters that she believes the House and Senate negotiators could reach a deal by the end of this week if “left to their own devices.”

Pelosi said she relayed to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., one of the lead negotiators, that “whatever you all come to an agreement on, bipartisan agreement, I will support it.”

“I hope that the administration would have the same attitude and respect for the appropriations process,” Pelosi said. “And I know they can find agreement.”

She added that she had relayed her hope to Vice President Mike Pence “that the White House will have the same hands-off policy as I have vis-a-vis the appropriators.”

Trump, meanwhile, announced plans to hold a campaign rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas, on Monday, four days ahead of the deadline for passing a bill to avert a shutdown.

If a deal is not reached by then, the rally would provide the president an opportunity to make a public case before a friendly audience for his long-promised wall – a demand that led to the 35-day shutdown that ended Jan. 25.

A deal struck between Trump and congressional leaders is keeping the government open until Feb. 15, while congressional negotiators try to reach a compromise that Trump will sign.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday that it’s not certain Trump would sign legislation crafted by the conference committee.

“Do I have confidence in that? No I don’t,” Hoyer said.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the chair of the conference committee, told reporters she is hopeful that an agreement can be reached by Friday to give both the House and Senate time to approve it.

“We’re meeting, we’re trying to resolve as many issues as possible,” she said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that we can conclude the process by Friday, but there are many questions that are being discussed and debated, and we look forward to completing our work.”

Lowey declined to say whether any formal offers had been made by Democrats that include some of the $5.7 billion in border-wall funding that Trump is seeking. Their initial offer included no new money.

Asked if Trump’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night did anything to move the needle, Lowey said: “No comment.”

Republicans on the conference committee organized a closed-door briefing Wednesday with Border Patrol representatives that Democrats agreed to attend.

Upon emerging, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he believes the highest funding priority should be technology to intercept drugs at the border – not physical barriers. Durbin told reporters that the briefers tried to “rationalize” the need for physical barriers.

Several lawmakers on the committee, which includes seasoned negotiators with years of experience, have insisted they could easily reach agreement without interference from Trump or Pelosi, who has called a border wall “immoral.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, told reporters Wednesday that “enhanced fencing” could be part of a bipartisan solution. Jeffries wouldn’t say, however, whether that would be new fencing or repairs to existing fencing.

In a statement Wednesday, Michael Glassner, chief operating officer for Trump’s reelection campaign, said that El Paso was chosen as a rally site to highlight the president’s message.

“As the President continues his fight to secure our border, there’s no better place to demonstrate that walls work than in El Paso,” Glassner said. “President Trump looks forward to visiting with the patriots of Texas who are on the front lines of the struggle against open border Democrats who allow drugs, crime, and sex trafficking all along our border every day.”

Glassner’s statement echoed a claim made by Trump during his State of the Union address Tuesday night that the construction of a “powerful barrier” along the border in El Paso had dramatically reduced violent crime.

In a fact check, the El Paso Times found that the crime rate had fallen long before the construction of fencing authorized under President George W. Bush and completed in mid-2009.

From 2006 to 2011 – two years before the fence was built to two years after – the violent crime rate in El Paso increased by 17 percent, the paper reported.

In a television interview Wednesday, Pence defended Trump’s tactic of shutting down the federal government in a bid to gain leverage for border wall funding and said he could not guarantee that another closure will be averted next week.

“I never think it’s a mistake to stand up for what you believe in, and I think what the American people admire most about this president is he says what he means and he means what he says in a very real sense,” Pence said on “CBS This Morning.”

Asked if he could guarantee there won’t be another shutdown, Pence said: “Well, I think our hope is that there’s not, but I can’t make that guarantee. The simple truth is that Congress needs to do their job.”

Trump has dismissed the committee’s negotiations as a “waste of time” and suggested that he might declare a national emergency that would allow him to circumvent Congress and use the military to build his wall. Many Republican senators are opposed to that approach, saying it would set a bad precedent for future Democratic presidents and would end up getting challenged in court.

The Washington Post’s Robert Costa contributed to this report.

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