Wed. 8:49 a.m.: Trump says ‘wall’ must be part of lawmakers’ border deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Hill negotiators say they are hopeful of reaching an agreement as they officially kick off talks today on a homeland security spending bill stalled over funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

Left on their own, the seasoned House and Senate lawmakers say they could easily reach a border security deal as they have for two years in a row. But whether Trump would sign it is another matter altogether.

Trump has grown impatient and his demands on his U.S.-Mexico border wall. He tweeted this morning, hours before the negotiators were to sit down for their first meeting, that the group of Republicans and Democrats is “Wasting their time!” if they aren’t “discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier.”

Democrats, who hold the House, remain united against Trump’s vision for a massive wall project, yet some are signaling a willingness to deal in the wake of the 35-day partial government shutdown.

“We’ve consistently said that we do not support a medieval border wall from sea to shining sea,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat. “However, we are able to support fencing where is makes sense, but it should be done in an evidence-based fashion.”

“We’ve come to big agreements before,” said the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer said that “when the president stays out of the negotiations we almost always succeed. When he mixes in, it’s a formula for failure. So, I’d ask President Trump, àLet Congress deal with it on its own.'”

For their part, GOP leaders want to de-escalate the battle over the border wall and suggest they too could be flexible as bargainers, who hold their first session today, seek a bipartisan agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who pressured Trump last week to end the shutdown, warned the president against triggering another shutdown or declaring a national emergency on the Southwest boundary, a move that could let him redirect budget funds to building segments of the wall.

When asked to describe a border security agreement he’d support, McConnell said, “I’m for whatever works that would prevent the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month and also doesn’t bring about a view on the president’s part that he needs to declare a national emergency.”

A fresh, protracted crisis could make it difficult to tackle other upcoming business such as a deal to prevent automatic budget cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The longest shutdown ever was initiated by Trump after Democrats refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build segments of his border wall. Polls show people chiefly blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown and widely dislike the wall.

The president surrendered last Friday and agreed to reopen government for three weeks so negotiators can seek a border security deal, but with no commitments for wall funds.

Trump has retreated increasingly from the word “wall” as it became apparent that he lacked the votes in Congress to win taxpayer financing for the project, which he initially said would be financed by Mexico.

“Inside the meetings we’ve had, he’s said it could be a barrier, it could be a wall,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Because what a barrier does, it’s still the same thing. It’s the 30-foot steel slat, that’s a barrier.”

Today, McCarthy reiterated that “wall” is not as important as what it’s intended to do.

“I’m looking for safety and security over semantics,” McCarthy told “Fox & Friends.” “I don’t care what they call it, but it has to be a barrier. It has to protect.”

White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said: “The president has perfectly set this table for the negotiations with Congress. He wants to give Congress one more chance.”

Democrats have repeatedly said they wouldn’t finance the wall, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called “immoral.” In recent weeks, they’ve expressed support for fencing or physical barriers but have left ambiguous exactly what they would back. They’ve said they want to spend money on more border patrol agents and technology like scanning devices and drones.

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