Written by Emily Cochrane
Congress will move quickly Thursday to pass a border security deal that deprives President Donald Trump of what might be his last chance to build his wall, leaving the White House to decide whether to try to go around Congress to find the money.
The Senate will vote first on the legislation, which includes the seven remaining bills to keep the final quarter of the government open through the end of September. House and Senate negotiators unveiled the 1,159 page bill just before midnight Thursday, leaving little time for lawmakers to actually digest its contents. Final passage is expected Thursday night when the House takes it up.
“It is incumbent on Congress to come together to responsibly fund our government,” Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement released shortly after midnight. “This legislation represents a bipartisan compromise and will keep our government open while funding key priorities.”
The border security compromise, tucked into the $49 billion portion of the bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security, represents perhaps the most stinging legislative defeat of Trump’s presidency. It provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of steel-post fencing, a pale comparison to the $5.7 billion request for more than 200 miles of steel or concrete wall that the president wanted.
That is less in mileage and money than what was included in the deal the president rejected in December, shutting down parts of the government for a record 35 days.
But the money allocated for fencing and immigration detention was more than what the left flank of the Democratic Party had wanted, especially those who campaigned on abolishing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Even with Congress’ left and right flanks grumbling, a solid majority of lawmakers has signaled support for the package, with Republicans and Democrats unwilling to court another shutdown less than 48 hours before funding for nine Cabinets and multiple federal agencies are set to expire.
While Trump is expected to sign the bill, White House officials were reviewing ways the administration could assemble funds to supplement money for physical barriers at the southwestern border, including potentially pulling money from Army Corps projects in California and Puerto Rico.
Officials stressed, however, that the plans were still fluid.
The Homeland Security bill allows for 55 miles of new steel-post fencing, but prohibits construction in certain areas along the Rio Grande Valley. It also includes a provision, pushed by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, the only negotiator from a border district, that grants communities and towns on the border a period of time to weigh in on the location and design of the fencing. More than $560 million is allocated for drug inspection at ports of entry, as well as money for 600 more Customs and Border Protection officers and 75 immigration officers.
The bill also prohibits funds from being used to keep lawmakers from visiting and inspecting Homeland Security detention centers, following a number of highly publicized instances where Democratic lawmakers tried to visit detention centers and were turned away.
Lawmakers were also pulled in by the other six measures, which fund a number of agencies, including the IRS, which is in the middle of tax-filing season, and the Commerce Department. Allocations include $77 million for addressing the opioid epidemic and funds to address natural disasters, including nearly $4 billion to wildland fire programs and $12.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.
The package also negates an executive order that Trump signed to freeze pay for federal civilian workers, and instead extends a 1.9 percent pay increase. Vice President Mike Pence, Cabinet officials and other high-level political appointees will also receive raises, about $10,000 a year, which were frozen during the shutdown.
Negotiators failed to come to a resolution on other matters, including back pay for federal contractors caught in the middle of the shutdown and the extension of the Violence Against Women Act, which expires Friday — though grants under the act are funded in one of the spending bills.
All but one of the 17 House and Senate negotiators signed off on the final package. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., refused to sign, saying he was given no time to digest the seven spending bills. But he did not rule out voting for the bill on the floor.
“Maybe the policy is good, maybe it’s not,” Graves wrote on Twitter. “I’ll work through this ahead of the final vote later today.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., signed the bill, but he noted by his signature that he did not endorse funding for border patrol agents and detention slots. Democrats say that by funding a daily average of 45,274 beds for detainees, they will force officers to reduce the number of migrants in detention from about 49,000 to 40,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
But with up to $750 million available to be shifted to detention and latitude for federal agencies in how funds are used, Republicans say the number could actually increase to as many as 58,500 beds.
Trump’s expected signature will not completely resolve the funding debates, as the president looks for ways to appease his supporters who rallied around his promise to “build the wall.”
Republicans have stressed to Trump and their hard-line immigration critics that they see the $1.375 billion for physical barriers as a “down payment” for investments to come. Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that “this is only the beginning of a multiyear effort.”
But with Democrats in charge of the House, the fight over congressional funding for the wall may, in fact, be over. House Democrats, wielding both oversight and the congressional power of the purse, have warned against efforts to subvert their funding limits on detention beds, border barriers and other matters. The spending bill provides for oversight of ICE, and places numerous limits on the agency, outlining protections for pregnant detainees, requirements for publicizing data about who is in custody and prohibitions on destroying records.
They have also said that they plan to push for a higher pay increase for federal workers and to introduce legislation that would address Trump’s efforts to curb immigration: restoring the crucial protections under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and offering additional protections to the roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers.