Bicameral Conference Committee Meets to Discuss Border Security
January 31, 2019
After striking a deal to temporarily reopen the government, 17 members of Congress were appointed this week to a conference committee charged with brokering a deal on border security. The bipartisan, bicameral panel is led by the top appropriators in each chamber, namely Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), as well as Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Kay Granger (R-TX). The committee, which held its first public meeting on January 30, also includes California Democrats Lucille Roybal-Allard, Barbara Lee, and Pete Aguilar. With the current stopgap funding measure set to expire on February 15, the members of the committee have a relatively small window of time to negotiate a deal.
In opening statements, both sides expressed a desire to come to a mutually beneficial agreement that avoids another prolonged government shutdown. For their part, Democrats appeared willing to support some sort of physical barrier (i.e., fencing, bollard wall, etc.) along the southwest border, although key negotiators insist it must be part of an evidence-based plan. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers embraced certain elements of a border strategy recently outlined by Democrats, including new imaging technology, additional customs officers, mail-processing equipment to better detect opioids, and additional funding for infrastructure improvements at border ports of entry.
Over the next two weeks, the conference committee must also decide whether to seek a narrow deal that addresses the aforementioned border security measures or attempt to forge a broader agreement on immigration that includes protections for undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. There have also been discussions about tackling other pressing issues, such as increasing the federal debt limit, lifting the current budget caps, and extending a number of expired tax breaks. Several key lawmakers have also urged the conference committee to consider proposals intended to prevent future shutdowns. At this time, it is unclear if conferees will pursue a deal on these additional elements.
For his part, President Trump has a more pessimistic outlook on the negotiations. Despite agreeing to temporarily reopening shuttered departments and agencies, he remains adamant about the need for a border wall. In fact, the president has again threatened to declare a national emergency if Congress fails to produce a bill that provides funding for some type of barrier. Anticipating another budget impasse, the White House is reportedly in the process of finalizing the details of a potential emergency declaration, which, in the view of administration officials, would allow them to shift previously allocated funds to build the wall.
Finally, in other developments, President Trump has accepted an invitation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to deliver his State of the Union address on February 5. The speech, which was initially scheduled for January 29, was postponed by Speaker Pelosi due to security concerns posed by the partial government shutdown. Despite the increasing animosity between Trump and congressional Democrats, the president has indicated that his comments will focus on unity.