WASHINGTON – A bill that will provide some funding for a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border appears likely to clear Congress as lawmakers rush to beat a midnight Friday deadline and avoid another government shutdown.
Congress is expected to vote Thursday to approve the measure, which offers $1.375 billion for a 55 mile border barrier – much less than the $5.7 billion that President Donald Trump has demanded for a wall along the southern border. And slightly less than the $1.6 billion and 65 miles of the Senate Homeland Security Committee voted out of committee last summer.
The House plans to vote on the bill later Thursday evening and send the measure to Trump, who has signaled – but not said outright – that he would sign it into law.
“I hope each of my colleagues will join me in moving forward with the agreement produced by this hard work, and the president will sign it into law,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
The White House said Trump is monitoring the votes on the Hill, and would not say whether or not he plans to sign the final product.
“He’s taking a look at it, and you’ll hear more about that when he’s ready,” senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
Trump assured a group of local law-enforcement officers on Wednesday that, one way or another, he intends to build a wall and said he wants one that would be harder to climb than the world’s tallest mountain.
“It’s a big wall, it’s a strong wall,” Trump said. “They would be able to climb Mt. Everest a lot easier, I think.”
The Senate Homeland Security Committee advanced their appropriations bill last summer which included $1.6 billion for 65 miles of wall. At the time, that was not a sufficient number for the president, who ultimately shutdown the government over his demand. But now Trump is accepting even less than that initial offer.
The legislation which was released late Wednesday night, would spend $1.375 billion to fund the barrier along the Texas border. It requires the structure be made of previously deployed designs. That rules out concrete, but it can be made of steel slats.
The agreement also provides $7.6 billion for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some of that would go toward funding a goal of 40,520 detention beds by the end of the year. That number is what was previously appropriated but ICE had exceeded it, detaining closer to 50,000 people. ICE cannot use the funding to hire more people to apprehend and remove undocumented immigrants.
Trump’s demand for a border wall – a signature promise of his presidential campaign – was at the center of a budget standoff that triggered a record 35-day government shutdown late last year. The shutdown ended in late January, when lawmakers passed a temporary funding bill to buy them time to work out an agreement on border security.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of budget negotiators from the House and Senate announced an agreement “in principle” on the border security deal.
Trump has suggested he could get the rest of the money for a wall by declaring some sort of a “national emergency” – allowing him, in theory, to use defense money for wall construction, but also inviting legal challenges from opponents who say the president lacks the legal authority to declare an emergency in this case.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other officials also have suggested another option: moving existing money from other accounts to fund walls, fences or other sorts of barriers.
Lawmakers must pass – and Trump must sign – the new border security measure by midnight Friday or government funding will lapse, triggering another shutdown.
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