4 Big Questions About Border Security Negotiations Over the Next 3 Weeks

The federal government is again fully reopened—at least until Feb. 15—even as House and Senate negotiators are set to try to reach a deal on border security that President Donald Trump will sign.

Trump announced on Friday a temporary truce, as House Democrats have refused to fund his proposed border wall. Trump has asked for $5.7 billion for it.

Here are four things to look for in the next three weeks, between now and mid-February’s end of the latest continuing budget resolution:

1. Who’s on the Bipartisan Select Committee?

House and Senate leaders named members to a 17-member special select committee to negotiate a deal. The committee has eight Republicans and nine Democrats.

Whatever plan the special committee produces will still have to be passed by the full House and Senate, but party leadership on both sides of the aisle is likely to give strong deference to the committee recommendations.

The special panel’s members also serve on the appropriations committees, and are members often experienced in making deals.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., are both on the committee. So are the ranking members, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.

Other Republican senators on the committee are Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Hoeven of North Dakota, and Roy Blunt of Missouri. The other Democrats are Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Jon Tester of Montana.

Other House Democrats serving on the committee will be Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Barbara Lee, and Pete Aguilar, all of California; David Price of North Carolina; and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Other House Republicans on the panel are Reps. Charles Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.  

“I think we’ve moved the ball forward at this moment,” Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications, told The Daily Signal on Monday during a press gaggle at the White House.

“I think the mere fact that we have these conferees coming together on Wednesday and seriously looking at resources and seriously having a discussion about border security, and wanting to find a solution and a legislative fix is a step in the right direction,” she said.

2. Are Democrats Willing to Negotiate?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called the idea of a border wall “immoral” and appeared to leave no room for compromise.  

However, several high-profile Democrats have indicated an openness to supporting some type of physical barrier along the southern border.

That includes House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who said, “I think physical barriers are part of the solution.” The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he “would not rule out a wall in certain instances.”

Although the president’s Friday announcement to reopen the government was criticized by some conservatives, and prompted Democrats to take a victory lap, Schlapp told The Daily Signal the focus is now off the government shutdown and on border-security negotiations.

“The key is that, right now, they are ready to negotiate. It took weeks and weeks and weeks,” she said.

Schlapp noted that Trump already offered a three-year extension for the legal status of illegal immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and also an extension for those in the country under “temporary protected status.”

“The president put forth a good faith proposal that included a lot of elements the Democrats could agree with, including DACA, an extension of DACA and TPS,” Schlapp said. “It was unfortunate that they didn’t want to negotiate with us. Now, I think, with the conferees in place, and the willingness for them to come to the table, I think it is a positive step in the right direction. The question is, can they get it done?”

3. Where Is Public Opinion?

While Pelosi seemed to score a victory, she took the biggest pounding in public approval during the shutdown, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. She experienced a six-point drop in approval, and now has just a 28 percent job approval rating and a 47 percent disapproval rating.

The poll found Trump’s support remained steady.

Still, numerous other polls found that Trump took a beating in public approval for the partial shutdown of the federal government that began on Dec. 22.

One was a Morning Consult poll last week that found Trump’s disapproval at a record high of 57 percent, with approval at 40 percent.

A CBS News poll last week found 47 percent thought Pelosi was doing a better job handling the shutdown and 35 percent thought Trump was, while 59 percent disapproved of his job performance.

However, a ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 54 percent think the federal government is doing “too little” to secure the southern border. Only 16 percent think the government is doing too much, and 24 percent think the government is doing the “right amount” to secure the border.

4. What Happens Without a Deal?

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that any solution has to provide border security that includes funding for a border wall. However, she did not answer definitively if that had to be the full $5.7 billion.

She further said that Trump is still open to taking executive action—presumably by declaring a national emergency and reallocating military funding for the wall.

“If they don’t come back with a deal, that means Democrats get virtually nothing,” Sanders said. “That will … force him to take executive action that does not give Democrats the things that they want.”

Trump has the statutory authority to do so under the 1976 National Emergencies Act. Congress can reverse the action after 180 days. However, executive action would likely be litigated.

During the press briefing, Sanders said Trump wants a legislative deal.

“The president doesn’t want to go through another shutdown. That’s not the goal,” Sanders said. “The goal is border security and protecting the American people.”

She noted Trump has made a good-faith effort to compromise.

“The president has opened the government on the basis that Democrats have signaled to us that they’re willing to actually get serious about a real deal and get serious about fixing the problem at the border, including funding for a border wall,” Sanders said.

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