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What's Included In The Proposed Bipartisan Border Security Compromise

Feb 12, 2019
Originally published on February 12, 2019 4:41 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill seem to be solidly behind this border security deal. Here's Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Hopefully this agreement means that there won't be another government shutdown on Friday, sparing the country another nightmare.

KELLY: Top Senate Democrat there, and here's the top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging the president to support the deal.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm hoping that he will find this agreement acceptable and that he signs the bill.

KELLY: NPR's Susan Davis is tracking all of this, and she joins us now from Capitol Hill. Hey there.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So we just heard their language. They're talking about how they're hoping - they're hopefully onboard with this. But to the key question of where the president is, how confident are lawmakers that they've got the White House with them?

DAVIS: I don't know if anyone in Congress is confident in predicting the president will sign this bill until they see the ink dry on the legislation. The president didn't help the uncertainty today telling reporters he was not happy with the bill, not thrilled with what he's heard is in it. At the same time, he said he doesn't think there will be another shutdown, and he's made clear he's thinking about other ways to build barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. So I think there is some level of confidence that this will get done this week.

KELLY: We should say we have not read the actual bill yet.

DAVIS: Right.

KELLY: It hasn't been released publicly. But negotiators have shared the outlines of it. We've been interviewing some of them today. What is it specifically that the White House and the president do not like?

DAVIS: Well, remember; he asked for $5.7 billion for the wall. In this, he's going to get 1.375 billion. That's significantly less than even the Senate had agreed to before the government shutdown the first time. It will provide for 55 miles of new wall barriers mainly in the Rio Grande Valley. The administration also wanted to increase the number of detention beds, and the legislation actually puts the trajectory downward to lower those numbers of beds, although it does give the administration some wiggle room to increase them if there is a need. And I think that those are two things that the president had to compromise on. He didn't necessarily get his way.

KELLY: What if this - the president were to sign this legislation despite his misgivings but also find a way to work around Congress to get more money for this border wall? How real a possibility is that looking?

DAVIS: It certainly sounds like it based on Republicans I've talked to today. And a lot of his allies in Congress are encouraging him to do just that. Here is South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham today.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: The delta between 1.375 and 5.7 can be made up in two ways - through reprogramming money through existing statutes and declaring a national emergency and using that vehicle to find funds. I think he'll probably do both.

DAVIS: Do both. So the White House is making this case - and he has varying degrees of support from his own party on the Hill about this - that the president has some authority to redirect defense spending to go to programs that already exist that are allowed to build fencing. He's also not ruled out that more extreme option of declaring a national emergency, which would completely end run around Congress. Democrats are promising a court battle if he goes there. You know, it's Congress' authority to decide how your taxpayer dollars get spent, and they're not going to let that happen without a fight. They might find some Republicans joining them in that fight.

KELLY: And just to back up for a moment here. We've been focused on the president, but is this a done deal that this compromise has got the votes to pass Congress?

DAVIS: You know, this is the question I've asked every lawmaker I've seen today. Not many are willing to say how they're going to vote on this until the actual bill is released.

KELLY: Right.

DAVIS: We're expecting to see...

KELLY: Most of them haven't read it either.

DAVIS: Exactly. So Senator Shelby, who helped write the bill, said they're going to release it tomorrow. You know, generally speaking, when the top Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee reach a spending deal and their party leaders say they support it, usually those bills pass. Again - and this goes back to the president here. If he comes out against the bill and says he won't sign it, it will completely throw all that conventional wisdom out the window. At the same time, if he says, yep, I'll sign it; send it to me, then absolutely it's on a glide path to passing Congress.

KELLY: Thank you, Susan.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Sue Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.