Donald Trump vows announcement on border as talks remain stalled

The president plans to renew his demand for a wall on the US border with Mexico, but also offer incentives for congressional Democrats, according to a person familiar with the matter.
President Donald Trump promised a “major announcement” on the government shutdown.(AP)
President Donald Trump promised a “major announcement” on the government shutdown.(AP)
Updated on Jan 19, 2019 06:45 PM IST
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Bloomberg | ByBloomberg

President Donald Trump promised a “major announcement” on the government shutdown Saturday as he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi headed into a long holiday weekend with no sign their increasingly acrimonious standoff is any closer to an end.

The president plans to renew his demand for a wall on the US border with Mexico, but also offer incentives for congressional Democrats, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Although Trump has hinted that he might declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and fund the wall if other options failed, he does not plan to do so on Saturday, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the announcement beforehand.

The person would not discuss what Trump plans to offer to the Democrats who now control the US House, beyond saying that it may have something to do with immigration.

The Democrats, who have adamantly refused his demands for $5.7 billion for the wall, have called for protections for young immigrants who came to the US as children and other immigration reforms.

Trump’s tweet late Friday previewing the announcement capped three days of dramatic twists in a clash between the president and the speaker that’s become highly personal.

The president blocked Pelosi and a congressional delegation from visiting US troops Afghanistan over the weekend, a day after she said he should postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address. On Friday, Pelosi abandoned an attempt to fly there on commercial flights, saying that administration leaks about the trip endangered the lives of the participants.

“It was very irresponsible on the part of the president,” Pelosi told reporters.

In canceling the military flight, Trump said he wanted her to remain in Washington to negotiate. But as of Friday, Pelosi’s office had received no White House invitation for further talks, even as Trump moved on other fronts, including scheduling a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of February.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the possibility of Pelosi being invited for meetings over the weekend.

They dispute over the wall led to the impasse, which has closed nine government departments and dozens of agencies since December 22. Democrats are trying to craft their own border security plan that doesn’t include new wall funding, though the White House didn’t indicate any softening of the president’s stance.

“What really has to happen is Nancy Pelosi needs to come back to the White House or send others here who are actually willing to converse and negotiate and come up with the money for border security,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an appearance on Fox Business Network. “Our doors are open.”

In Ankara, Turkey, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said the stalemate could be resolved soon, citing “behind the scenes” meetings he’s had with Democrats and Vice President Michael Pence.

“I believe there is a deal that can be reached fairly quickly,” Graham told Bloomberg Saturday after meetings with Turkish leaders. “I think this can be done in a couple of weeks, not a couple of months.”

Democrats have rallied around the position that only after the government opens would they be willing to talk about increased border security. Republicans said Democrats would have to offer more than the $1.3 billion in border funds they have already put on the table.

Border Tactics

Pelosi said this week that her party is willing to talk about increased border security money but not to fulfil Trump’s campaign promise to build a 2,000 mile wall.

“In case I wasn’t clear, 90 % of the drugs coming into the country come through the ports of entry. Let’s use resources to expand the ports of entry,” she told reporters. “This has to be evidence-based, not notion-mongered.”

By coming up with their own proposal, Democrats can inoculate themselves against charges by Trump and his supporters that they’re in favour of open borders.

“We’ve got to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against,” former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential challenger to Trump in 2020, said in an interview in Washington.

Pelosi, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York and Homeland Security subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and their staffs are seeking to draft the plan by Tuesday.

“A lot of members are asking what is our plan here,” Roybal-Allard said. “We are looking at all the options.”

A Homeland Security spending bill could be voted on by Friday and perhaps become the basis of any Democratic offer in talks once the government opened, according to two Democratic aides.

The amount of funding for the border could approach the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking but none of it would be for a wall, according to one of the aides.

Roybal-Allard said that she would be looking at adding personnel, technology, and infrastructure at the border as well as securing ports of entry and funding more immigration judges to process backlogs of immigration cases.

Humanitarian aid for asylum-seekers and aid for Central American countries to encourage migrants to remain at home are also on the table, as is facilitating trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

A House vote on the bill could help lawmakers get out of the impasse by presenting an offer without violating the Democratic pledge not to give in to a White House that provoked the shutdown. Democrats say that could set a precedent that would encourage Trump to use the debt ceiling or future spending bills as leverage.

Separately, Democrats are adding border provisions to a package of six bills funding other parts of the government and set for a vote next week. Totaling about $1 billion, half the money would be used to strengthen security at ports of entry and half to fund more immigration judges.

Developing a House plan could ease the concern of moderate Democrats that the party is not doing enough to try to resolve the impasse. This week, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, met with Trump in the White House but didn’t emerge with any potential solution.

“We were there to say there are enough of us who want to sit down and find an agreement,” Representative Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, said after the meeting.

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