WASHINGTON – House Democratic leaders are drafting a letter to President Donald Trump that would propose $5 billion in border security if he agrees to reopen the government, but Trump warned Wednesday that the partial government shutdown could drag on for a while.
The Democrats’ proposal does not include money for any “new structures” along the southern border as the president has demanded, so it is unlikely to move as is. But it is still significant because it’s the first time Democratic leadership will broadly lay out what they might accept in a compromise to end the government shutdown, now in its 33rd day.
“It’s a starting point. You know, I think we all want border security. There is no question about it,” Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told reporters Wednesday. “It’s just that some of the things that are being pursued in the name of border security we disagree with.”
Thompson said he is involved in drafting the letter, which he expects to come from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Start the day smarter: Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox
“No new structures, the only thing we are talking about is existing structures, along with the judges and some other things,” Thompson said. He said there would be money for “some new” Customs and Border Protection agents and to bolster ports of entry.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters the letter hasn’t been finalized, but “we are prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money because we share the view that borders need to be secure.”
The letter “is not a negotiation,” Hoyer said. “The letter is going to articulate what we believe is effective investment to accomplish border security.”
Thompson said protections for so-called “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, are not included in the proposal.
At the White House, Trump said Wednesday the government shutdown could drag on because of the dispute over border security and his proposed border wall.
Democrats “don’t want to see crime stopped, which we could very easily do on the southern border,” Trump told reporters while taking questions during a health care event. “… This will go on for a while.”
Trump struck a less-strident tone on Saturday, when he offered a proposal that would include temporary protections for Dreamers as well as refugees who had previously been given Temporary Protected Status in the U.S. in exchange for $5.7 billion for his wall along the southern border. The president’s proposal would make it harder for minors from Central America to seek asylum, an idea Democrats oppose.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has scheduled a vote to begin debate on the president’s proposal Thursday. If that fails to get the 60 votes required, a bill that would fund all of the remaining government agencies through Feb. 8 will be voted on.
“I want my friends, my Republican friends, to understand the stakes here. Reopening the government for three weeks may not sound like a long time, but it’s massively important to 800,000 public servants who have been languishing without pay,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Trump has said he would veto the measure. It is unclear if either bill will make it through the Senate.
The news that House Democrats will make a new offer to Trump comes one day after a letter began circulating from centrist Democrats calling on Pelosi to offer a vote on Trump’s border wall in exchange for his support to reopen the government. The wall is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House.
“What we’re trying to say is we need to return to regular order, we need to open the government, we need to take these issues to committee, we need to analyze them in a facts-based way,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., the freshman lawmaker who has taken the lead on drafting the letter. “In my letter, I’ve suggested a timeline, and I’m moving forward with some other colleagues who share the same views.”
But Luria, who represents a district Trump won in 2016, dismissed any notion that those on the letter were breaking with their leadership.
“This (letter) is very much in line with what we were just discussing in the caucus meeting,” Luria said after Democrats met Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think there’s any division” within the caucus, Luria said.
“It’s just coming from every direction, the pain that this inflicting on people, so we just have to get the government open,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., another freshman. “Everything I’m hearing is the caucus is really united. It has to be.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe
More: What’s in the Republican immigration bill, and why Democrats oppose it
More: Will government shutdown impact security at Super Bowl LIII?