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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington, Idaho lawmakers start formulating positions on immigration deal to avert shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber on the morning after House and Senate negotiators worked out a border security compromise hoping to avoid another government shutdown, at the Capitol in in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – Under mounting pressure from his own party, President Donald Trump appeared to be leaning grudgingly toward accepting an agreement Tuesday that would head off a threatened second government shutdown but provide just a fraction of the money he’s been demanding for his Mexican border wall.

Washington and Idaho lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that they were not particularly happy with the tentative deal, but emphasized the importance of avoiding another government shutdown.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. said that should be a high priority.

“The last thing families and federal workers in Washington state need is another senseless, unnecessary Trump shutdown, and they are counting on Democrats and Republicans to come together and do our jobs to keep the federal government open,” Murray said in a prepared statement.

Murray said that she wanted a deal that “responsibly secures our southern U.S. border.”

Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, said that he predicted that Trump would approve the deal to avoid the shutdown. But he added that he has a difficult time predicting the administration.

“My guess is he doesn’t want to have another shutdown, really nobody wants another shutdown,” Fulcher said. “It will probably be adopted, but it won’t be the end of this.”

Accepting the deal, worked out by congressional negotiators from both parties, would be a disappointment for a president who has repeatedly insisted he needs $5.7 billion for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the project is paramount for national security. Trump turned down a similar deal in December, forcing the 35-day partial shutdown that left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without paychecks. There is little appetite in Washington for a repeat.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said she will review the proposal once it’s released before she makes a decision how to vote.

“It sounds like a missed opportunity to secure our border and provide long-term certainty for DACA recipients,” she said

Lawmakers negotiating for a deal tentatively agreed Monday night to provide nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers and keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

In a prepared statement, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, echoed McMorris Rodgers’ sentiment that he would like to study the bill before taking a position, but supported building the wall. He also noted that he has co-sponsored a bill to prevent government shutdowns.

Fulcher said he doubts it’s a good deal from what he’s heard so far, and said that it had been coined a compromise only in the sense that neither side got what they wanted.

The agreement would allow 55 miles of new fencing – constructed using existing designs such as metal slats – but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

Based on briefings, Fulcher said that the security at the southern border was both a security and a humanitarian crisis, and that the country needs a contiguous border solution. He also said that from his travels throughout his life – he’s traveled to 47 countries – this is an issue in many other places.

“Other countries take the border security seriously, and we should, too,” he said.

Full details were not expected to be released until Wednesday as lawmakers worked to translate their verbal agreement into legislation.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, would “support any measure that will keep the government open that gains the support of both houses of Congress and be signed by the president,” said spokesman Robert Sumner. “There are reports that a compromise proposal has been reached; however, the senator is still being briefed on the details of that agreement. Without knowing all those details, it would be premature for him to announce his intention.”

Many Republican leaders urged Trump to sign on.

“I hope he signs the bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who joined other GOP leaders in selling it as a necessary compromise that represented a major concession from Democrats.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., expressed optimism Trump would be on board.

“We believe from our dealings with them and the latitude they’ve given us, they will support it,” he said. “We certainly hope so.”

Others were less upbeat. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who traveled with the president to a rally in Cornyn’s home state Monday night, said, “My impression flying back with him from El Paso last night is that he thinks it’s pretty thin gruel.”

A presidential rejection of the deal could plunge Congress into a new crisis, as lawmakers have no clear Plan B. They need to pass some kind of funding bill to avoid another shutdown at midnight Friday and have worked to avoid turning to another short-term bill that would only prolong the border debate.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Trump said of a possible shutdown: “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Still, he made clear that, if he does sign on to the deal, he is strongly considering supplementing it by moving money from what he described as less important areas of government.

“We have a lot of money in this country and we’re using some of that money – a small percentage of that money – to build the wall, which we desperately need,” he said.

That could be more difficult than he made it sound, facing challenges in Congress, federal court or both.

The White House has long been laying the groundwork for Trump to use executive action to bypass Congress and divert money into wall construction. He could declare a national emergency or invoke other executive authority to tap funds including money set aside for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.

Previewing that strategy last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “We’ll take as much money as you can give us, and then we will go off and find the money someplace else – legally – in order to secure that southern barrier.” He said more than $5.7 billion in available funds had been identified.

McConnell, who had previously said he was troubled by the concept of declaring a national emergency, said Tuesday that Trump “ought to feel free to use whatever tools he can legally use to enhance his effort to secure the border.”

The framework now under consideration contains plenty to anger lawmakers on both the right and left – more border fencing than many Democrats would like and too little for conservative Republicans – but its authors praised it as a genuine compromise that would keep the government open and allow everyone to move on.

Trump was briefed on the plan Tuesday by Shelby and sounded more optimistic after the meeting. “Looking over all aspects knowing that this will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources,” he tweeted, adding, “Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged Trump to accept the package to avert another shutdown, calling the tentative accord “welcome news.”

But the proposal was met with fury by some on the right, including Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, a close friend of the president, who slammed it as a “garbage compromise.”

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, released a scathing statement saying she and others had been “hoodwinked.”

“This so-called ‘deal’ is worse than a joke,” she said.

The hosts of Trump favorite “Fox & Friends,” however, urged the president to agree to the deal and keep the government open, a relief to White House officials and congressional Republicans who had been nervously watching the roll call of conservative media voices, trying to predict where Trump would land.

This report was compiled by The Spokesman-Review’s Megan Rowe and the Associated Press’ Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Jonathan Lemire.