Negotiators working on a deal to avoid another government shutdown hit an impasse over the weekend after Democrats insisted on cutting the number of beds available at detention centers.
Hopes for a deal by the Friday deadline dimmed, with one key negotiator saying chances were only 50-50 that an agreement could be reached, with Democrats’ new demand further complicating a debate that had previously centered on President Trump’s border wall.
The White House said Sunday that Mr. Trump will build his wall one way or another, but unless lawmakers can resolve their fight, the president might not be able to sign a bill to keep the government open beyond this week’s deadline.
“There’ll be some things that simply we couldn’t agree to. So the government shutdown is technically still on the table,” White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday.” “We do not want it to come to that, but that option is still open to the president and will remain so.”
After weeks of Mr. Trump rocking things by trying to add in more wall money, it’s now Democrats upending the negotiations by demanding massive cuts to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention capacity.
ICE is currently holding about 49,000 migrants in detention, and Mr. Trump has asked for 52,000 beds total. Democrats want to cut that number to about 34,000 beds — with an additional limit of 16,500 beds for people ICE arrests in the interior.
Administration officials say ICE is holding more than 20,000 criminal migrants arrested in the interior, and Democrats’ limits would mean releasing thousand of them out onto the streets.
“This is ‘Abolish ICE,’ ” one official said.
Democrats said they doubted ICE would release criminals — though they did not provide their own numbers to counter the administration’s math.
Instead, they said ICE would have to get better at prioritizing — though they acknowledged they were trying to punish the agency for its enforcement tactics.
“For far too long, the Trump administration has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, one of the Democrats’ negotiators. “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.”
Lawmakers have just five days to sort it all out. Neither party has much appetite for a repeat of the shutdown that unnerved markets and spread misery among the federal workforce from late December to Jan. 25, when Congress agreed to reopen the rest of the federal government and negotiate anew over border security.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat, and Rep. Tom Graves, Georgia Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” they’re still hopeful they can craft a bill that will make it through both chambers.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, and Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, appeared less certain. They said things could still work out or be a “train wreck.”
“I’ll say 50-50 we get a deal,” Mr. Shelby told Fox.
“I think the talks are stalled right now,” he added. “I’m hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away.”
Mr. Trump, who shouldered much of the blame for the last shutdown, argued Democrats are the ones who are making talks difficult.
“They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” he tweeted.
Mr. Trump might still declare a border emergency and use the Pentagon to build his border wall. Congressional Republicans are skittish about that idea, saying it would set a broad precedent for presidential powers.
If the president did use emergency powers, Congress could attempt to overturn it, by voting for a resolution of disapproval. That would require majority votes in each chamber — but Mr. Trump would then likely veto it, and Congress would then have to muster two-thirds of each chamber to override the veto and prevail.
The House’s top Republican, Kevin McCarthy, says that won’t happen.
“I don’t see any way that would get overridden,” the congressman told reporters Friday, likely emboldening Mr. Trump to go it alone if he doesn’t get his way this week.
Mr. Mulvaney said the president would prefer legislation, since it is the “proper way to spend money in this country.”
“But if that doesn’t happen, the president proceeds,” he told Fox. “His No. 1 priority is national security.”
⦁ David Sherfinski contributed to this article.
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