JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Congressional bargainers worked toward a border security deal Friday amid indications that the White House was preparing to accept a bipartisan agreement that would give President Donald Trump a fraction of the money he's demanded for his proposed southern border wall.
Participants said they expect money for physical barriers to end up well below the $5.7 billion that Trump has sought to begin construction of the wall, which has attained iconic significance for him and his conservative supporters. Underscoring the clout he's lost during a battle that's dominated the opening weeks of divided government, the amount seems sure to fall much closer to $1.6 billion, the participants said, a figure that was in a bipartisan Senate bill last year.
"That's what we're working toward," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., one bargainer.
An agreement would also avert a new partial federal shutdown next weekend. Trump has warned he might trigger a new closure of agencies if he doesn't get his way, but that threat has become toothless because of solid opposition from GOP lawmakers burned by the record 35-day closure that he initiated in December.
Rep. Al Lawson (D - Florida District 5) was in Jacksonville on Friday for an announcement at City Hall. He says his constituents want to make sure the government stays open and that border security is addressed, which he thinks is a common goal in Congress.
"We might have a different philosophy, but the president is supposed to be a person that is a deal maker," Lawson said. "You have to give some and take some."
One White House aide said Trump was expected to back whatever compromise emerges and acknowledged there is no will among congressional Republicans for another shutdown. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Coupled with a widespread expectation that the agreement would not use the term "wall," the pact would represent a significant retreat for Trump, for whom "Build the wall!" has been a battle cry since his presidential campaign.
Democrats seemed to draw a firm line on spending.
"Throughout the talks, Democrats have insisted that a border security compromise not be overly reliant on physical barriers," said Evan Hollander, spokesman for Democrats who control the House Appropriations Committee. "We will not agree to $2 billion in funding for barriers."
In another signal that Trump was reluctantly preparing to give ground, the White House has been considering accepting the deal but also using executive action to secure additional barrier funding without lawmakers' approval. That plan was described by two people familiar with White House thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Depending on what Trump does, such an action could spark lawsuits or congressional votes of disapproval.
Trump supporters have said there are other executive powers Trump could use to divert money from the budget to wall construction, though it was unclear if they would face challenges in Congress or the courts. One provision of the law lets the Defense Department provide support for counter-drug activities.
Besides the dollar figure, talks were focusing on the type and location of barriers, participants said. Also in play were the number of beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could have for detained migrants and the amount of aid included for natural disaster relief.
Money for high-tech surveillance equipment and more personnel was also expected to be included.