US lawmakers reach tentative deal to avoid govt shutdown

US President Donald Trump at a rally in the El Paso County Coliseum on Monday in El Paso, Texas. Mr Trump continues to press for a wall to be built along the southern border but aides say the tentative deal did not contain the US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 b
US President Donald Trump at a rally in the El Paso County Coliseum on Monday in El Paso, Texas. Mr Trump continues to press for a wall to be built along the southern border but aides say the tentative deal did not contain the US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) the President wants for a border wall.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It reportedly includes US$1.37b for new fencing along southern border - far below what Trump has demanded

WASHINGTON • US congressional negotiators have reached a tentative deal to try to avert another partial government shutdown on Saturday, but congressional aides said it did not contain the US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) President Donald Trump wants for a border wall.

"We reached an agreement in principle" on funding border security programmes through Sept 30, Republican Senator Richard Shelby told reporters on Monday.

"Our staff are going to be working feverishly to put all the particulars together," Mr Shelby said. Neither he nor three other senior lawmakers flanking him provided any details of the tentative pact.

But it was far from clear if the Republican President would embrace the agreement. His December demand for US$5.7 billion this year to help pay for a wall on the US-Mexico border - rejected by congressional Democrats - triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month without him getting wall funding.

A congressional aide, who asked not to be identified, said the outline of the deal included US$1.37 billion for erecting new fencing along the southern border. That is about the same amount Congress allocated last year and far below what Mr Trump has demanded.

The aide said none of the money would be for a "wall", which Mr Trump has been touting since he launched his campaign for president in 2016. Democrats say the wall would be costly and ineffective.

Shortly after the deal was reached in the US Capitol, Mr Trump held a rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas, to argue for the wall he says can protect Americans from violent criminals, drugs and a "tremendous onslaught" of migrant caravans.

Mr Trump said he heard about progress in the talks just before he took the stage, but he too did not discuss details.

WALL 'WILL BE BUILT'

Just so you know - we're building the wall anyway. Maybe progress has been made - maybe not.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

"Just so you know - we're building the wall anyway," he said. "Maybe progress has been made - maybe not."

Mr Beto O'Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from Texas considering a 2020 White House run, held a counter-rally just 180m away and accused Mr Trump of stoking "false fear" about immigrants and telling "lies" about Mr O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso.

But a vocal group of conservatives influential with Mr Trump has urged him to remain steadfast in his demand for the border wall money. In comments about the tentative congressional deal reached on Monday, Fox News commentator Sean Hannity told his viewers: "Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain."

Under Monday's agreement, Democrats gave up on a demand to lower the cap on immigrant detention beds in the interior of the United States. Democrats had complained the Trump administration was increasing detention capacity as a way of speeding up deportations of illegal immigrants.

Mr Trump agreed to reopen the government last month for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30, to avert another shutdown.

The handful of lawmakers leading the negotiations met privately for about two hours on Monday. They said they wanted to seal a plan by Monday night to allow time for the legislation to pass the House of Representatives and Senate and get Mr Trump's signature by Friday, when funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.

Without a fresh injection of federal funds, an array of federal agencies would have to suspend some activities, ranging from the maintenance of national parks to publication of economic data that is important to financial markets.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'US lawmakers reach tentative deal to avoid govt shutdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe