By Kristina Peterson, Natalie Andrews and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- Senior lawmakers said Monday night they had reached an agreement in principle to fund border security and avoid a partial government shutdown this weekend.
The top four lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations committees said Monday night that they had agreed to a framework for all seven spending bills whose funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
Senate Appropriations Committee Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) said congressional aides were now working out the details.
Republicans and Democrats earlier on Monday had sparred over the number of beds used for immigrants detained by enforcement authorities as they restarted talks aimed at breaking an impasse over border security and avoiding another government shutdown. Mr. Shelby said Monday night the issue had been resolved, but would not specify how.
For months, the public dispute over the border has largely focused on funding levels and the design of border barriers, spurred by Mr. Trump's longstanding call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But over the weekend, Republicans raised objections to limits that Democrats have long been seeking on the number of beds that would be provided for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Democrats have wanted to force the Trump administration to prioritize the detention of immigrants with criminal records above those who, for example, overstayed their visas.
"How the government deals with ICE is a very important issue, and that's why the beds are so critical to this negotiation," said Mrs. Lowey.
Democrats have been working to secure some constraints on ICE as a concession from Republicans, in exchange for meeting GOP demands to build more physical barriers along the border. Republicans have balked at the limits on ICE beds, saying they don't want to restrain their capacity to detain criminals.
"This is a poison pill that no administration -- not this one, not the previous one -- would -- or should -- ever accept," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor. "House Democrats want to set a limit on how many criminal aliens our government can detain."
Democratic aides said that if ICE officials conduct proper vetting, they could detain all the individuals considered the most dangerous.
Mr. Trump remains a wild card, and the latest delays in reaching an agreement heightened prospects that he would declare a national emergency and seek to divert funds from elsewhere to go toward miles of a wall along the Mexican border. Such a move would meet swift legal challenges, and GOP lawmakers have raised concerns over siphoning military-construction or disaster-aid funds to build the wall.
Mr. Trump has been seeking $5.7 billion to go toward a border wall. The amount under negotiation is a range of $1.3 billion to $2 billion, which would include funding for barriers and other measures and could mark an increase from the last fiscal year.
In comments Monday, Mr. Trump said Democrats "don't want to give us the beds," adding: "We need a wall or else it's not going to work."
Asked if there would be another shutdown, which Mr. Trump ended weeks ago when he agreed to a three-week stopgap measure with no border-wall funding, the GOP president sought to direct any blame away from the White House. "That's up to the Democrats," he said.
Lawmakers have little appetite to shut the government, having just endured a 35-day partial shutdown in which hundreds of thousands of federal employees were furloughed or forced to work without pay.
Democrats, while balking at a wall, have signaled willingness to fund some physical barriers, such as fencing and levee walls, along the border.
Democrats had proposed establishing a new limit on detention beds used by ICE officials when apprehending people for violations within the U.S., known as interior enforcement. Those beds would be capped at 16,500, within the existing overall cap of 40,520 beds funded in the fiscal year 2018 spending bill.
"A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country, " said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D., Calif.), who leads the House Appropriations Homeland Security panel.
Republicans objected, wanting to exclude violent criminals from that cap. Without an agreement on ICE beds, talks on funding levels and physical barriers stalled.
"The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!" Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday.
But the dispute over ICE beds has been under the radar for months. Liberal Democrats have urged leaders for weeks not to provide any additional funding to the Department of Homeland Security or ICE in the negotiations.
Within the group of 17 lawmakers trying to cut a deal, Democrats had initially proposed lowering the overall cap to 35,520 beds, which Republicans rejected. The White House has urged Congress to increase funding for 52,000 beds.
Matthew Albence, a top official at ICE, said on a call organized by the White House that lawmakers "are trying to undermine our ability to do interior enforcement and to enforce immigration law" by imposing artificial caps on the agency's funding. "There are people that are buying into this whole 'Abolish ICE' movement and are trying to do so through the fiduciary process at this point."
Before the talks broke down over the weekend, lawmakers had been discussing funding ICE at a level that would have limited the agency to between 34,000 and 38,500 total detention beds by year's end, a House Democratic aide said, although Republicans disputed this.
Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump's interim chief of staff, on Sunday said the possibility of another lapse in government operations couldn't be ruled out. The five-week shutdown that began in December ended with a short-term spending bill that runs out Friday. Lawmakers said if they haven't reached an agreement before then, they may need to pass a short-term spending bill.
--Louise Radnofsky and Peter Nicholas contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at email@example.com, Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Andrew Duehren at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 11, 2019 21:05 ET (02:05 GMT)
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