By Kristina Peterson and Joshua Jamerson
WASHINGTON—House Democrats said they will try to reopen the government when they take control of the chamber on Thursday with a spending package aimed at isolating the fight over border-wall funding.
Democrats, who had been debating what package of spending bills to bring to the floor this week, settled on Monday on a plan to pass six full-year spending bills that would fund most of the government through September 2019. They also included a short-term patch extending current funding through Feb. 8 for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border, in the legislation unveiled Monday evening.
The six full-year spending bills were crafted in the Senate with bipartisan support and have been held up by the dispute over wall funding. With the government partially closed, about 420,000 employees, deemed essential, are working without pay, while 380,000 federal employees have been placed on unpaid leave.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who is expected to be elected House speaker on Thursday, is expected to bring up and pass the spending package with Democratic support later that day.
“While President Trump drags the nation into Week Two of the Trump Shutdown and sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress, Democrats are taking action to lead our country out of this mess,” Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in a statement Monday evening.
Mr. Trump said in a Fox News interview Monday that he was ready to negotiate with Democrats, but remained committed to securing funding for the border wall.
“A lot of people are looking to get their paycheck, so I’m ready to go whenever [the Democratic leaders] want,” Mr. Trump said. “No, we are not giving up. We have to have border security and the wall is a big part of border security. The biggest part.”
Mr. Trump later tweeted: “The Democrats will probably submit a Bill… which gives everything away but gives NOTHING to Border Security, namely the Wall. You see, without the Wall there can be no Border Security.”
Mr. Trump has demanded billions of dollars in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of any package to reopen the government. The Republican-controlled Senate has signaled their approach will depend on Mr. Trump.
In the past, the White House hasn’t wanted to separate the Department of Homeland Security’s funding, worried that would diminish Mr. Trump’s leverage in the wall negotiations.
The Democrats’ goal is to end the partial government shutdown, now in its 10th day, while focusing the debate on the border-wall funding in February. Mrs. Pelosi has been in frequent communication with Mr. Schumer during the negotiations, according to aides.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Monday that the chamber wouldn’t take up legislation without public support from the president.
“It’s simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the President that he won’t sign,” said the spokesman, Don Stewart.
The House Democrats’ plan comes as lawmakers and the White House have tried to reach a middle ground between Mr. Trump’s border wall, seen as a nonstarter for Democrats, and the enhanced border security that they are willing to fund. Part of that debate has included a fight over the definition of what constitutes a border wall, and what kind of barrier would satisfy Mr. Trump’s pledge to supporters.
On Sunday, outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly said that the administration earlier dropped the idea of a concrete wall and instead envisions a barrier in some spots, supplemented by border guards and technology, following the advice of Customs and Border Protection officials.
“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Donald J. Trump
An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!
7:51 AM – Dec 31, 2018
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Mr. Trump appeared to challenge Mr. Kelly’s comments, tweeting Monday morning: “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media.” He added: “Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides).”
But one of Mr. Trump’s staunch allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), seemed to be backing away from the vision of a continuous wall along the southern border. Mr. Graham told reporters at the White House on Sunday that a “wall has become a metaphor for border security.”
“And what we’re talking about is a physical barrier where it makes sense,” he said.
For months, both Democrats and Republicans have used different rhetoric to describe some of the same components at the heart of the funding fight that triggered the partial government shutdown that began earlier this month, while also disagreeing over how much money to spend. Earlier in December, Mr. Trump had said the wall would be largely made of steel slats, which Democrats consider the same as bollard fencing, or a fence made of a series of posts. The most recent spending bill passed in March did include some funding for bollard fencing.
Democrats are staunchly opposed to funding a border wall, which has become a potent political symbol on the left representing Mr. Trump’s immigration policy. But Democrats have repeatedly said they are willing to spend money on border security.
For example, the most recent bill funding DHS, which oversees the border, included money for fencing, bollard fencing, levees and technology, but not a concrete wall. Republicans have said those funds constitute wall money, while Democrats said that is border security, not wall funding.
Much of the recent negotiations have centered on what restrictions would be placed around new funding to meet both parties’ demands.
“The issue is not the number. The issue is, what is the number used for?” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said in late December. “We believe that border security is important. We don’t believe the wall works. We think technology and personnel are much better investments.”
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