House Democrats are preparing a counteroffer to President Trump’s border security demands without a wall, seeking to restart long-stalled talks to reopen the government after 33 days.
Democratic leaders are drafting their own version of a funding bill to reopen the Department of Homeland Security, which is expected to include at least $5 billion for border protection efforts like new technology and more law enforcement agents, according to multiple aides.
The proposal — which is still being finalized — won’t include new money for Trump’s border wall, which House Democrats have vehemently opposed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to formally unveil the proposal Thursday evening, after the Senate takes up its own dueling funding measures to reopen the government. Both are partisan bills that are predicted to fall short of the necessary 60 votes.
Pelosi and her deputies are also mulling sending a letter directly to the White House outlining their positions, which some Democrats hope will unfreeze negotiations that have gone nowhere throughout the impasse.
With the shutdown in its fourth week, pressure is reaching a boiling point with federal workers set to miss their second paycheck on Friday.
Congressional leaders in both chambers are planning action this week as more lawmakers go public with their anxiety about the endless stalemate. Still, an end to the shutdown remains far off, with no talks scheduled between Pelosi and Senate GOP leaders, who will need to bless any funding deal.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Conference, confirmed the party’s plans on Wednesday, and described it as an attempt to show “a path forward out of this.”
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed back Wednesday on the idea that the letter was intended to directly reopen talks with Trump, despite several Democratic sources privately describing it that way. Democrats have said firmly that they would not negotiate with the government still closed.
“The letter is not a negotiation,” Hoyer told reporters. “The letter is going to articulate what we believe is an effective investment to accomplish border security.”
Hoyer wouldn’t say whether the missive would contain a specific monetary offer for border security but did say Democrats are prepared to spend much more than they’ve offered in current negotiations.
“We are prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money because we share the view that our borders need to be secure,” Hoyer said.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the lead negotiator on DHS funding, spent the weekend in the Capitol working on a bill that will “reflect the consensus of House Democrats,” one Democratic aide said. The bill stands no chance of becoming law, but it seen as “something to work with” in negotiations with the White House.
House Democratic leaders are trying to show movement as some cracks in their caucus begin to show in the unprecedented 33rd day of shuttered government operations.
A handful of moderate Democrats have begun to speak out against Pelosi’s strategy of refusing to negotiate until the government is reopened. A small group, led by freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, began circulating a letter this week pressing Pelosi to counter Trump’s proposal with her own potential compromise.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), another centrist Democrat, said he, too, has considered confronting leadership as he’s felt mounting pressure in his district.
The Oregon Democrat said he’s willing to negotiate while the government remains shut down as long as Trump is willing to put a broader immigration deal on the table that goes beyond temporary protections for Dreamers, which he said is “kind of BS.”
“Not negotiating is not a good strategy,” the Blue Dog Coalition member said. “We lost the messaging battle over the weekend. We can’t reject stuff out of hand, you have to at least consider it... But I think there’s an opportunity to have a broader conversation as a result of that… there’s a lot of people that are getting interested, we’re getting a lot of push back home to solve this problem,” Schrader said.
The Blue Dog Coalition was preparing to send a letter Wednesday criticizing the “brinksmanship” and calling on Democratic and GOP leadership to begin talks now on a border security package both sides could support, even before the government reopens.
“We therefore urge you to hold a bipartisan, bicameral summit that brings together House and Senate leaders to hold a substantive, transparent discussion on a path forward to reopen the government,” the group said in a draft of the letter obtained by POLITICO. “That discussion should be designed to produce legislation that will quickly pass both chambers of Congress.”
In a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday, Pelosi tried to ease members’ frustrations by telling them leadership has a plan, even if they’re not revealing all of the details just yet.
“Sticking with a plan — and there is a plan that will unfold, working jointly with the House and Senate — I wish we would do that,” Pelosi said in the meeting, according to a Democratic source.
Pelosi then went on to say members should trust their committee leaders, noting that Roybal-Allard “has the bill ready to go” and “nobody knows more about homeland security” than Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the panel.
“I am so proud of our freshman going out there and saying open up government then talk about this or that,” she added. “But understand, there is a plan. It is working for us. I appreciate the unease because we all do.”
The House does not plan to vote on its funding plan until after the Senate shows that it can’t pass either of its two funding proposals that are under consideration this week.
One proposal is backed by Democrats, and would simply reopen the government through Feb. 8.
The other comes directly from Trump. It includes $5.7 billion for border fencing, as well as a short-term fix for individuals enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It also includes $12.7 billion in disaster aid, in an attempt to sweeten the pot for Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been mostly out of view during the shutdown, agreed to put both funding bills up for a vote despite their uncertain fate. The Thursday votes will mark the Senate’s first votes on government funding bills in a month.
The White House formally backed that proposal in a statement Wednesday, calling it a “compromise approach” to reopen the government.
“It’s hard to think of a good reason to oppose this,” McConnell said on the floor, arguing that Democrats are “happy to keep the government closed unless and until everyone agrees to move forward in their preferred way with no concessions and nothing for border security.”
Original story here.