GOP leaders back border deal, despite protests on the right

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WASHINGTON | GOP congressional leaders on Tuesday swung behind a hard-won agreement to prevent a new government shutdown and finance construction of more barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, selling it as a necessary compromise even as some Republicans on the right voice opposition.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pauses for reporters as he and other senior bipartisan House and Senate negotiators try to strike a border security compromise in hope of avoiding another government shutdown, at the Capitol in in Washington, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It’s not clear whether President Donald Trump will support the deal, although GOP negotiators said they were hopeful.

Top Republicans Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Kevin McCarthy in the House both claimed victory, crowing about Democratic concessions on new border barriers and a late-stage battle over the ability of federal authorities to arrest and detain immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

“You’ve got to remember where Nancy Pelosi was. She has said, ‘No money for a wall.’ That’s not the case,” McCarthy said on CNBC Tuesday morning. “The Democrats have now agreed to more than 55 miles of new barrier.”

However, negotiators said it’s pretty much the deal that Trump could have gotten in December. Aides revealed details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.

Republicans and the White House were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed Monday night to far less money for Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The huge funding measure, which combines seven spending bills into one, runs through the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Details might not be released until Wednesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend.

At the White House on Tuesday, spokesman Hogan Gidley was noncommittal: “We want to focus on what’s actually in the document. Until we see that, it’s going to be very difficult to have a conversation about what we will and won’t accept.

The agreement means 55 miles (88 kilometers) of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles (345 kilometers) the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. It closely mirrors Trump’s original budget request from last winter.

The split-the-differences compromise contains plenty to anger lawmakers on the right and left — more border fencing than many Democrats would like and too little for conservative Republicans — but its authors praised it as a genuine compromise that would keep the government open and allow everyone to move on.

“With the government being shut down, the specter of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought tonight was we didn’t want that to happen” again, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

“Our staffs are just working out the details,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The pact also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry points, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats and additional customs officers.