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White House pours cold water on House Dems’ emerging border package

Senior official dismisses measure over lack of border wall funds

President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, in March. (Mario Tama/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, in March. (Mario Tama/Getty Images file photo)

The White House on Thursday poured cold water on an effort by some House Democrats to craft a border security package that will meet or surpass President Donald Trump’s $5.7 billion demands.

One senior White House official dismissed the still-evolving package from Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, set to be made public in an early form Friday morning, because it lacks border wall funds.

The official did not dispute a reporter’s assessment when he said he would put the administration in the “no” column on the Thompson-Lowey package.

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That came before the Senate voted down Trump’s plan to end the government shutdown via a package he laid out Saturday that would have funded his border wall and given temporary protections to around 700,000 undocument migrants in the United States illegally. The chamber also voted down another measure that did not include barrier funds, ensuring the historically long shutdown will reach its 35th day on Friday.

But another plan that emerged Thursday could be more palatable to the White House.

Sen. Lindsey Graham announced on the Senate floor that he had told Trump that they were discussing a three-week stopgap spending plan.
The South Carolina Republican said Trump “gave me some indications of things that he would want for a three-week CR,” suggesting the president would want additional provisions related to border security which he said would be “a good faith down payment” on the issue. 

“I’m just hoping and praying” that Democrats would agree to what Trump is asking for, Graham said, so the government could reopen for three weeks. 

“If we can get in a room, we’ll fix this, and it won’t take three weeks,” Graham said. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a subsequent floor speech that he expects an amendment to be filed on a bipartisan basis later Thursday afternoon. 

“While three weeks may not sound like a lot of time, in part it will help focus our attention on getting the job done,” Van Hollen said. 

The White House sent a signal to Senate leaders about the three-week plan.

“Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Schumer are meeting now to see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “As was made clear to Senator Lindsay Graham, the three-week CR would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall.” 

In the House, Thompson did not rule out the emerging Democratic package being ready for a floor vote as soon as next week.

“Everything is possible but you’ve got to vet it through various members of Congress to make sure you can get some general agreement,” he said. “And I think that’s probably what you’ll see the next three, four days, trying to get some agreement.”

As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump used his call for a U.S.-Mexico border wall to fire up his conservative base and drive up turnout among his supporters. He has in recent weeks tried to give Democrats, in his words, an “out” by changing his proposed design from a concrete wall to a “barrier” that would be constructed using “artistically designed steel slats.”

[Kudlow mops up after White House officials’ shutdown gaffes]

Again on Thursday morning, however, he was back to calling it a wall on Twitter, where he communicates directly with his 57.7 million followers.

The president tweeted that without his wall, “there cannot be safety and security at the Border or for the U.S.A.,” adding the new slogan he coined Wednesday morning: “BUILD THE WALL AND CRIME WILL FALL!”

Lindsey McPherson and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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