Washington (AFP) – US lawmakers reached a preliminary deal to provide some funding for President Donald Trump’s Mexico border wall but waited Tuesday to see if he accepts the compromise and cancels a threatened government shutdown.
At nearly $1.4 billion for wall construction, the budget agreed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers was far less than the $5.7 billion that Trump wanted.
Trump has not given a definite answer, telling a crowd of supporters at a rally in the Texas frontier city of El Paso late Monday only that there was “probably some good news, but who knows?”
The money, along with other border security measures, was presented as a workable deal to satisfy both sides and allow Trump to shelve his threat to shut down swaths of government on Friday.
The funds would allow 55 miles of new walls along the border.
Hundreds of miles of barriers already run along the US-Mexican border but Trump says far more is needed to bring what he often calls an “invasion” of migrant criminals under control. Democrats say Trump vastly exaggerates the crime problem and uses the issue to whip up his right-wing voter base.
In December, Trump tried to pressure Congress into approving the $5.7 billion by refusing to sign off on funding swaths of government that have nothing to do with the wall, putting 800,000 jobs, from FBI agents to airport security, on hold for five weeks.
The Democrats refused to budge and Trump was forced into an embarrassing climbdown, allowing new negotiations to open with a new deadline of this Friday.
Republicans appear desperate to avoid a second shutdown.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the compromise deal was “certainly good news.”
“It provides new funds for miles of new border barriers,” he told senators. By approving this, government could then work “with predictability and certainty.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the upper house, agreed.
“While the details are still being hammered out, the tentative agreement represents a path forward for our country, away from another round of fraught negotiations, up against a government funding cliff, away from a dreaded government shutdown,” Schumer said.
– Election ploy –
Although there’s little doubt that organized Mexican drug crime and people smugglers present a threat along the US border, Trump’s fixation on wall building has polemicized Americans to the point where the left and right can barely discuss the issue.
For Trump, chants of “build the wall” were crucial to his surprise 2016 election victory. At the El Paso rally he introduced a new slogan for his coming 2020 reelection bid: “Finish the wall.”
The thousands of devoted Trump fans, many of them wearing his red “Make America great again” campaign hats, cheered at the dire warnings about Mexican criminals and calls for bigger and longer walls.
“Walls save lives, walls save tremendous numbers of lives,” Trump told them.
There was a counter-message a short distance from where Trump spoke when rising Democratic star Beto O’Rourke — a possible challenger in 2020 — held his own rally.
A former congressman who excited grassroots Democrats last November with an against-the-odds near upset of Republican Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke is from El Paso.
“Tonight, we will meet lies and hate with the truth and a positive, inclusive, ambitious vision for the future from the US-Mexico border,” he said.
Trump dismissed O’Rourke as “a young man who’s got very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name.”
Making fun of what he said was O’Rourke’s much smaller crowd, Trump said: “That may be the end of his presidential bid.”