US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Says She Will Back a Bipartisan Border Deal, Putting the Onus on Trump


FEBRUARY 7, 2019

Representative Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, said it was unlikely that Congress would reach a border security agreement this week. – Sarah Silbiger/NY Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Wednesday that she would be willing to endorse any bipartisan border security agreement that emerges from House-Senate negotiations, leaving the success of those talks largely hinging on President Trump’s endorsement.

With administration officials on Capitol Hill for the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Ms. Pelosi said she told Vice President Mike Pence that she hoped the White House would adhere to “the same hands-off policy” and let the bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers come to their conclusion ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline to keep the government fully funded.

President Trump has requested $5.7 billion to construct a wall on the southern border. – Guillermo Arias/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump has repeatedly scorned the talks as a “waste of time” if a final agreement produced by the group, known as a conference committee, does not satisfy his $5.7 billion demand for a wall at the southwestern border. But Ms. Pelosi offered her unqualified support.

“If left to their own devices, if they have a bipartisan agreement, I will support it,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday, adding that she had offered the same assurance to Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and a member of the committee.

“Left to their own devices, I think they could have an agreement” by Friday, she added.

That might be optimistic. Leaving a classified briefing with committee members and Customs and Border Protection agents, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, offered a slightly more pessimistic prediction.

“No,” Ms. Granger said when asked if there was a chance to reach an agreement by Friday. But a deal by next week, she said, was “absolutely” possible.

Mr. Shelby told reporters after the meeting that he hoped a final piece of legislation could be produced by Monday and voted on later next week. Staff members, he said, were again expected to work through the weekend.

“Time’s fleeting, and time’s ticking,” said Mr. Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The classified briefing with career officials, organized by Mr. Shelby, was supposed to detail the immediate needs of law enforcement at the southwestern border. But lawmakers emerged without a consensus on physical barriers, only with renewed insistence that a final deal needs to include money for some kinds of physical structures as well as technology and manpower.

Ms. Granger, who took a brief trip to a handful of cities along the border this week with her House Republican colleagues on the conference committee, conceded to reporters on Tuesday that the structure described by the officials she met would be best categorized as fencing. But she did not retreat from her insistence that physical structures needed to be a part of the final deal.

Those on the trip “came back and said, ‘If we’re going to do it right, it has to be some kind of physical barrier,’” she said, singling out the examples of bollard fencing she saw.

The group visited McAllen, Tex., along with Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat and fellow committee member whose district includes the city. They also toured the border in El Paso and San Diego.

“The priority is a physical barrier, a change in the system and enough people that our professional security can do their jobs,” Ms. Granger said.

Some of the conclusions that Ms. Granger described seemed to align with those of some of her colleagues, who emerged from the closed meeting describing a solution that encompasses both physical barriers and enhanced technology at the southwestern border.

“They don’t rule out barriers, they don’t rule out fences, but technology was their first priority,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. But a tangible combination of all of those, he said, was still unclear.

Even if an agreement is reached, Mr. Trump could follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency and try to build the wall by shifting money from other projects. If lawmakers miss the deadline, another lapse in funding could shutter parts of the government just weeks after the end of the country’s longest shutdown.

“Obviously, it would be great if the president decided to sign the bill,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “I think we don’t know yet what his view is on this.”

A short-term spending bill could extend the deadline for negotiators, but multiple lawmakers have said they dread the prospect of again punting on a final spending bill.

Mr. Trump’s decision to refrain from threatening a national emergency or a shutdown in his State of the Union address offered a glimmer of hope.

“He never used the word shutdown, which I think is very significant,” Mr. Cuellar said in an interview after the president’s speech. “I think that sends out a signal to the Republicans to say, ‘Work something out.’”

“I think that there is a path forward, but people need to understand we are not going to do the $5.7 billion,” he added on Wednesday. “I think we all agree that it has to be a comprehensive thing.”

Courtesy/Source: NY Times