WASHINGTON – As the partial government shutdown neared a month, President Donald Trump prepared Saturday to offer Democrats protections for children of migrants who entered the United States illegally in exchange for his $5.7 billion border wall.
A proposal developed by administration officials and Republican lawmakers will be part of Trump’s “major announcement” later on Saturday, said two officials familiar with the proposal speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt the president.
Congressional Democrats, however, questioned whether the offer would lead to a deal that would end the shutdown but allow Trump to pursue an expensive and ineffective wall.
“It’s clearly a non-serious product of negotiations amongst White House staff to try to clean up messes the president created in the first place,” said one Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to await the president’s speech. “He’s holding more people hostage for his wall.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., outlined the proposal for Trump last month, and told reporters the president was receptive. It involves giving the Democrats protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which includes a group known as DREAMers, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
Trump would not detail his proposal, but said it would be designed to end the partial shutdown that could trigger movement in talks to end the budget impasse that has kept the government closed for four weeks – now the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“Let’s get to work and let’s make a deal,” Trump said in a video he tweeted out to tease the 4 p.m. speech at the White House.
Speaking with reporters hours before his speech, Trump echoed his long-standing claim that he wants a wall to stop illegal border crossings. “If we had a wall, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Trump said.
Congressional Democrats said such a barrier would be easily evaded via ladders or tunnels, and noted that there will be no barrier along the border from coast to coast.
Trump frequently criticizes migrant “caravans” and claims they include criminals, though records say illegal border crossings have decreased in recent years and that migrants commit crimes at lower rates than U.S. citizens.
In the meantime, aides signaled that Trump would not use the remarks to declare a national emergency on the border, though that remains an option if new negotiations fail to yield a day.
The proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall is the sticking point in the budget negotiations.
The president has refused to sign any spending bills to re-open the government unless they include $5.7 billion for some kind of border barrier, be it a wall or a “steel slat” fence. Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, have refused to support the wall, calling it too expensive and ineffective, instead supporting technology and additional manpower to secure the border.
Meanwhile, government workers along the border are reporting to work every day but not getting paid because of the shutdown.
More: Security, immigration controls fray as shutdown stretches into its fourth week
At times this month, Trump has discussed declaring some sort of “national emergency” on the border, a move that would theoretically allow him to use defense money for his border – but also one that would invite a lawsuit from Democrats who say the president lacks the legal authority for such a move in this situation.
On a visit to the Texas border on Jan. 10, Trump lamented that “the people that are coming in – the criminals, the gangs, the traffickers, the drugs – it’s all crime.” Government data shows that most illegal drugs intercepted at the border come through legal ports of entry.
Fact check: Most drugs enter US through legal ports of entry, not vast, open border
In the past, Trump has avoided making the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program part of the negotiations. One reason is that DACA is the subject of a pending Supreme Court case; the side that prevails in that case will have less of an incentive to make it part of an overall agreement.
There have not been direct negotiations between Trump and the Democrats for more than a week, a time of angry back-and-forth between the parties.
On Jan. 9, Trump walked out of a negotiating session, saying Democrats refused to discuss any money for his border wall. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump staged “a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.”
On Jan. 16, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Trump to postpone or even cancel his Jan. 29 State of the Union address because of security concerns brought on by the shutdown. Trump has not responded directly to Pelosi’s request, but may address the fate of the State of the Union in his remarks at the White House.
While the president has yet to respond to the suggestion that he cancel the State of the Union, he did halt the military plane that Pelosi and a delegation of Democratic lawmakers planned to use for a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. The administration later said it would bar all members of Congress from using government planes during the partial shutdown without prior written approval.
Pelosi and the Democrats then sought to travel to Afghanistan on a commercial plane, but abandoned that idea because they said the Trump administration leaked news of the plan and undermined security. The administration denied Pelosi’s claim and labeled her allegations “outrageous.”