President Donald Trump appears to be taking a more positive view of Capitol Hill talks on border security, according to negotiators who struck a distinctly optimistic tone after a White House meeting with a top Republican on the broad parameters of a potential bipartisan agreement.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Thursday’s session in the Oval Office was “the most positive meeting I’ve had in a long time” and that the president was “very reasonable.”
Down Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol, the mood among negotiators was distinctly upbeat, with participants in the talks between the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-held Senate predicting a deal could come as early as this weekend.
There’s a Feb. 15 deadline to enact the measure or a stopgap spending bill to avert another partial government shutdown that neither side wants to reprise. Trump and Republicans are especially eager to avoid another shutdown after they got scalded by the last one.
Trump had previously called the talks a “waste of time” and he’s threatened to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But Shelby said Trump during their meeting “urged me to get to yes” on an agreement.
Publicly on Thursday Trump took a wait-and-see approach.
“I certainly hear that they are working on something and both sides are moving along,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens. We need border security. We have to have it, it’s not an option. Let’s see what happens.”
The White House is committed to letting the negotiations play out, with some saying they are “cautiously optimistic” about getting a deal they could live with, said a senior administration official who lacked authorization to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Beyond the border security negotiations, the measure is likely to contain seven appropriations bills funding domestic agencies and the foreign aid budget, as well as disaster aid for victims of last year’s hurricanes and western wildfires.
“I’m hopeful,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I do like the idea of getting all of last year’s work finished and I hope that’s where it ends up.”
A key negotiator, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said details on nettlesome border wall issues haven’t been worked out. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., another participant, said both sides are showing flexibility, including Democrats who insisted during the recently-ended 35-day shutdown on no wall funding at all.
“They are not opposed to barriers,” Blunt said about Democrats. “And the president, I think, has embraced the idea that there may actually be something better than a concrete wall would have been anyway.”
Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she was hopeful of an agreement that would “protect our borders as we protect our values.”
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., another negotiator, acknowledged that Democrats could possibly lose votes on any final deal and that it’s “unrealistic” to think there would be no funding at all for any physical barriers.
“Like in any negotiation — if the Republicans and the White House are saying they need barriers, wall, whatever you want to call it, and that is an absolute objective, and we’re saying we want some other things — like in anything else, it’s a trade off,” she said.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester, a member of the committee trying to reach an agreement on border security, said a deal was possible as early as Friday.
Tester, speaking to reporters, said on Thursday he thought it was “entirely possible we could have a deal in a timely manner, which could be tomorrow but certainly by the weekend.”
Updated Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 5:54 pm .