By Natalie Andrews and Louise Radnofsky
WASHINGTON—Democrats said on Wednesday they could support some funding for construction of new physical barriers on the Mexico border, including in places where one doesn’t currently exist, but negotiators signaled they remain divided over critical details as the Feb. 15 deadline approaches.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers tasked with hammering out a deal met with border-patrol officials on Wednesday. Lawmakers from both parties said it remains unclear if Mr. Trump will sign what they present to him. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he said the border was “very dangerous” and said he would accept a physical barrier deployed “in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need.”
The Trump administration has called for more than 230 miles of physical barrier, which Democrats aren’t likely to accept. Customs and Border Protection officials briefed lawmakers on Wednesday, but CBP has declined to publicly describe the location or to comment more generally.
Still, the band of 17 lawmakers from both parties expressed confidence that they could reach a deal by this weekend, and pass spending legislation by Feb. 15, the date current funding for much of the U.S. government expires.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D., Texas), whose district includes land along the border, said he could support some kind of “enhanced barriers,” such as levee walls along the Rio Grande that prevent flooding but also restrict crossings, as long as local communities were consulted in their design.
An especially thorny issue raised again on Wednesday is how to construct physical barriers on private land. “They’re not paying attention to private property rights,” said Mr. Cuellar.
The bipartisan and bicameral group received a classified briefing on the U.S. Border Patrol’s view of security needs on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“They have a 17-point plan,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.). “We haven’t quite gotten into that specificity just yet.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) described a rapid continuing pace of negotiations among congressional staff. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she aimed to have the negotiated legislation released to the public 72 hours ahead of a floor vote, in keeping with new House rules, with the committee’s report completed by Friday Feb. 8. Lawmakers and aides indicated that could shift if a deal is reached.
“If we got to a deal by the first part of next week or something, I think we’d get time.” said Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.).
Mrs. Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters she had told Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, that she would support any bipartisan agreement the working group reaches. She said she also spoke to Vice President Mike Pence just before Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday and encouraged him to stay “hands-off.”
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