Border wall talks look doomed

Border wall talks look doomed

And so it begins again. Federal workers in the United States returned to work on Monday amid dire warnings from the Washington over a possible second shutdown in three weeks.

A group of 17 politicians will work to thrash out a deal by February 15, but Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal he believed the chance they would come up with something was “less than 50-50”, although there were “a lot of very good people on that board.”

He said another shutdown was “certainly an option”, after his move to temporarily reopen the government on Friday without having reached a deal was attacked by both Democrats and Republicans.

Asked whether he would accept a figure of less than $US5.7 billion ($A8 billion) for his border wall, he said, “I doubt it,” adding, “I have to do it right.”

The committee urgently needs to find a compromise, with Mr Trump still demanding any new funding bill includes money for a wall, and Democrats only willing to provide $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for border security.

The US President told advisers in the West Wing over the weekend that declaring a national emergency may still be his best option, according to White House sources. One official told the Washington Post Mr Trump’s decision to reopen the government was about “clearing the deck” for executive action rather than backing down.

On Saturday, Mr Trump warned in a tweet that “21 days goes very quickly” and it “will not be easy to make a deal, both parties very dug in.”

‘BIGGEST WIMP EVER TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT’

Mr Trump has endured fierce criticism from both sides of politics since ending the record 35-day shutdown, accused of “caving” to the Democrats.

Most troubling for a President who relies heavily on his core base of supporters was the anger from the far right.

The Daily Caller announced “TRUMP CAVES” while the Drudge Report trumpeted “NO WALL FUNDS”, although both had softened their stance by the end of the weekend.

Far-right media personality Mike Cernovich called Mr Trump the “Commander-in-Soy” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “alpha”.

Fox Business host and Trump supporter Lou Dobbs blasted the announcement. “While the President pleased few of his supporters, if any, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the radical Dems (were) taking victory laps within minutes of the President’s 18-minute announcement,” she said.

Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter called him the “biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States”, telling HBO she wasn’t alone: “The base is what has rebelled here.”

The President on Sunday shot back at the author — who had warned he would lose his core supporters if he capitulated on the wall — telling the Journal: “I hear she’s become very hostile. Maybe I didn’t return her phone call or something.”

He even slammed two Fox News pundits, saying they had “even less understanding of the Wall negotiations than the folks at FAKE NEWS CNN & NBC!”

Not everyone agrees with the wall obsessives.

Conservative CNN host S.E. Cupp said on Saturday that he was a “border hawk” who wanted a tougher stance on illegal immigration “but there’s what I call a wall porn crowd, people like Ann Coulter and (Republican Steve King) who almost seem to have a sexual fetish for a cement wall.”

Many of the low-paid federal employees left floundering for more than a month were Trump voters, and some declared he had lost their support by holding them hostage.

“I think they want stronger borders and maybe even border fencing in some places, but Trump seems to govern for an audience of one or two,” said Cupp.

‘TWO YEARS OF THIS’

The President is in a precarious position, with a Post-ABC poll released on Friday placing his approval rating as low as 37 per cent, just one point above his record low from August.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll put his approval rating at 43 per cent, with 54 per cent disapproving of his performance.

Even those in the negotiating group are uncertain about what comes next.

“I’m going to remain optimistic … if you look at the impetus from both sides, the shutdown was a miserable experience for everybody,” Republican Senator and committee member Shelley Moore Capito told the Journal.

“There’s a lot that tells me we may not get there, but there’s more that’s telling me we have the urge to demonstrate we can reach a consensus or we’re signalling to the American people there’s going to be two years of this (fighting) all of the time.”

Jared Kushner is also reportedly hopeful for a bipartisan immigration deal, while White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has talked up a national emergency.

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Mr Trump would do whatever was necessary to “defend the nation” and conservative senator Lindsey Graham said he hoped Mr Trump would “go the emergency route” if the Democrats continued to fight against the wall.

“Have I not been clear on a wall?” Ms Pelosi asked on Friday. “I’ve been very clear on the wall.”

But her response on a “physical barrier” was less absolute.

The Senate appropriations committee in June 2018 approved a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included $US1.6 billion for border security including fencing, more staffing and better technology, which may serve as the group’s starting point.

Asked what form of barrier he would accept, Mr Trump said: “I have to see what it is. As long as it can stop criminals, gangs, human trafficking and drugs, I’m open to anything. But the only thing that will work is a very strong form of physical barrier.”

‘WE’VE TALKED PAST EACH OTHER’

There are faint signs a deal could be agreed, with Mr Trump having shifted his rhetoric to allow for the possibility of a shorter “steel barrier” rather than a concrete wall running the full length of the US-Mexico border.

“We’ve talked past each other to a certain extent, particularly on the notion of barriers,” Republican Senator Rob Portman told reporters on Friday. “I don’t think we’re that far apart.”

He made a proposal last week to extend protections for undocumented migrants by three years in exchange for his wall funding. Democrats refused, but there as been discussion that they could agree to fund the wall in exchange for permanent citizenship for Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“If the President or his hard-right wing would look at that in a little bit more (of) a compassionate way, I think it would break down the problems that we have with barriers,” Senator Joe Manchin told Face the Nation on Sunday.

Mr Trump on Sunday said he “doubted” he would agree to this, calling it “a separate subject to be taken up at a separate time.”

That may be the biggest issue here. A way forward requires some kind of bipartisan consensus on immigration, something that has long eluded Congress, with the issue being one of the most divisive for the US.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune warned that if was unlikely the government would reach a wider immigration deal by the February 15 deadline.

“If you make it a bigger deal, it’s obviously going to take a lot longer to get done,” he said.

Asked about permanent legal status for so-called “Dreamers”, Mr Thune said “that’s a longer-term conversation with regard to immigration.”

The countdown is on.

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