WASHINGTON – Senate leaders reached an agreement Tuesday to vote this week on two competing proposals to end the government shutdown, including President Donald Trump’s plan to have Congress pay for the long-stalled wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that’s likely to fail.
The other measure, from Democrats, also seems unlikely to pass. It would temporarily reopen the government through Feb. 8 while talks on border security continue.
Either package would need to hit the 60-vote threshold to advance on Thursday, a tall order in the narrowly divided Senate where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. Trump’s wall is the key sticking point in his standoff with Democrats that has led to a partial government shutdown.
But the agreement reached to at least start voting sets the stage for senators to give serious thought to the options as the shutdown enters a second month, and some 800,000 federal workers face another Friday without paychecks.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer predicted Trump’s proposal “will be roundly defeated.” But the Democratic bill, which already passed in the House, “could break us out of the morass we are in,” he said.
“If you’re looking for a way to open up the government, this is the way,” the New York senator said.
Republicans, though, downplayed the stopgap measure and said it would also fail.
Senate Republicans pressed ahead Tuesday with Trump’s plan to reopen the government, finance his wall and provide some deportation protections for “Dreamer” immigrants.
Convening the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump’s 1,300-page spending measure – including $5.7 billion to fund the wall – “would break through this stalemate and would reopen government swiftly and deliver on a number of other policy priorities.”
Democrats, though, panned Trump’s proposal and said the immigrant protections are inadequate – only offering temporary deportation relief that Trump helped cause by announcing an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants.
“Open the government. Let’s talk,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The (Dreamers) had their protections. … The president took it away, and now he is saying, ‘I’ll give you this back temporarily if you give me a wall permanently.’ ”
“It’s not a compromise,” added Schumer. “It’s more hostage-taking.”
Trump is offering three years of protection against deportation for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. He had tried to end the Obama-era program in 2017, though the issue remains before the courts.
As drafted, the bill is a nonstarter with Democrats, but McConnell appears hopeful that it could be a starting point for negotiations since it embraces immigration concepts backed by Democrats. McConnell has been adamant that he’ll only take up legislation that Trump will sign.
“The proposal outlined by President Trump that we will consider here in the Senate is the only proposal, the only one currently before us, that can be signed by the president and immediately reopen the government,” McConnell said.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, asked by Fox News whether Trump has given McConnell his word that he will sign the legislation if it clears both chambers of Congress: “Well, that’s a big if. We don’t know what the final bill would look like. But the president has been clear about what he wants.”
The Republican plan is a trade-off: Trump’s border wall funding in exchange for temporary protection from deportation for some immigrants. To try to draw more bipartisan support, it adds $12.7 billion in supplemental funding for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
All told, it would provide about $350 billion for nine Cabinet departments whose budgets are stalled. Other than the wall and immigration-related provisions, the core measure hews closely to a package of spending bills unveiled by House Democrats last week.
In exchange for $5.7 billion for Trump’s wall, the legislation would extend temporary protections against deportation to around 700,000 immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump has tried dismantling the Obama-era program for so-called “Dreamer” immigrants, those who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, but has been blocked by federal lawsuits.
That figure is substantially lower than the 1.8 million people Trump proposed protecting a year ago, which included people potentially eligible for DACA protections but who had not applied for them. In addition, Trump’s 2018 proposal included other immigration changes and $25 billion to pay the full costs of building his wall. His measure was among several the Senate rejected last February.
The new Senate bill would also provide three more years of temporary protections against deportation to around 325,000 immigrants in the U.S. who have fled countries racked by natural disasters or violent conflicts. Trump has ended that program, called Temporary Protected Status, for El Salvador, which has the most holders of the protected status, as well as for Honduras, Nicaragua and several other countries.
Another part of McConnell’s bill would tighten restrictions on minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in the U.S. It was already drawing condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates.
The proposal would require asylum seekers under age 18 from those countries to apply for that status at special facilities in Central America, not at the U.S. border; allow no more than 15,000 to receive asylum annually; and bar them from appealing a decision to the courts.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing ahead with their legislation to reopen the government and add $1 billion for border security – including 75 more immigration judges and infrastructure improvements – but no funding for the wall.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Democrats are playing “political games” and repeated his claims that the wall is a solution to drugs and crime – although the Drug Enforcement Administration says only a small percentage of drugs comes into the country between ports of entry.
“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security,” Trump tweeted. “With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games. Must finally be done correctly. No Cave!”
The impact of the government’s longest-ever shutdown continues to ripple across the nation. The longest previous shutdown was 21 days in 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was president.
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