What to Know in Washington: Border Talks Break Down as Deadline Looms

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A late-night wintry mix gives Washington a soggy, slippery and slightly delayed beginning to the week, as a Friday deadline looms for lawmakers and President Donald Trump to reach agreement on a deal to avoid a second partial government shutdown.

It’s an inauspicious start, after congressional talks about border-security funding broke down during the weekend in a dispute over detention beds for immigrants.

Negotiations could still get back on track in the next 24 hours, and negotiators may decide that a stopgap funding extension past Friday is necessary. But the prospect of getting an agreement by Friday’s deadline seems to have derailed, just as negotiators had hoped to unveil a deal by today to set up votes in the House and Senate this week.

The sticking point is over the number and purpose of immigration detention beds. Democrats are seeking a cap to force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain criminals rather than undocumented immigrants with no criminal history. Republicans are resisting a limit on grounds that criminals shouldn’t count toward it and ICE should have discretion.

Without a funding deal, nine federal departments and related agencies would shut down again, just weeks after a record 35-day closing. Negotiators also continue to haggle about the amount of funding for a wall and placement of fencing on the southern U.S. border. Amid the talks, Trump heads to El Paso, Texas, today for a rally “to show Democrats how much Americans demand The WALL,’’ according to a Trump campaign fundraising email yesterday.

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A mural dedicated to deported U.S. veterans is painted on the Mexican side of the U.S. border

I’ll say 50/50 we’ll get a deal,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I hope and pray we do.”

Lawmakers could resort to a resolution with funding through Sept. 30 if they can’t get a deal, but acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump “cannot sign everything they put in front of him. There’ll be some things that simply we couldn’t agree to.”

Mulvaney said a shutdown isn’t the most likely option but that he “absolutely cannot” rule it out. Trump has also threatened declaring a national emergency to get funding for a border wall.
“He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure the border,” Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of two appearances yesterday on talk shows. Read the latest from Erik Wasson and Jennifer Jacobs.

Trump Rally: Trump departs for El Paso this afternoon, with a “Make America Great Again” rally set for this evening where he’ll likely speak at length on the need for a wall and the showdown with Democrats. Yesterday, Trump said on Twitter he doesn’t think Democrats on the negotiating committee are being allowed by their party leaders to make a deal with border wall money and “now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”

“I actually believe they want a Shutdown,” Trump said in a separate tweet, suggesting it was a bad week for Democrats with the controversy in Virginia and good economic news for the U.S. economy, and they want to change the subject.

Beto’s Resistance: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said he plans to lead a march through El Paso to protest a border wall at the same time Trump speaks, the Associated Press reported. Dozens of civic and human rights organizations will join the march this evening to counter what O’Rourke says is the spreading of “lies and a false narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border,” AP said.
Separately, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) plans today to withdraw several hundred National Guard troops from the state’s southern border with Mexico, AP reports. About 100 of the 360 troops will remain deployed under California’s agreement with the federal government, according to AP.

Politics & Elections

Klobuchar, Warren Enter 2020 Fray: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced her bid for president yesterday with a vow to unify the country, “heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good.” Klobuchar promised to reverse many of Trump’s policies, especially on environmental issues. “The people are on our side when it comes to climate change,” Klobuchar said. The U.S., she said, also needs to find a way to get to “universal health care” and bring down the cost of prescription drugs. Read more from Laura Litvan.

A day before Klobuchar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the official announcement that she ’s running for president to change a country she says is “rigged by the wealthy.” A centerpiece of Warren’s campaign will be mitigating income inequality, and what she called “a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected.” Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Abortion Issue in 2020: The debate over abortion that’s divided the country for generations is being reignited for the 2020 election with the Supreme Court’s tilt to the right and Democratic-led states moving to lift some restrictions on the procedure. New York has eased some restrictions on late-term abortions, and lawmakers in Virginia have proposed to do so. That has given anti-abortion advocates fresh arguments and targets. Both sides in the debate, at the same time, expect the Supreme Court with two conservative j ustices appointed by Trump to narrow abortion rights.

Abortion has been a defining issue for both parties and it’s a motivator for voters. Trump’s embrace of strict limits on abortion in the 2016 campaign, despite calling himself “pro-choice” in the past, was essential to his locking up evangelical and other conservatives. With his approval rating stuck at around 40 percent, he’ll need those voters on his side to get re-elected. Read more from Anna Edgerton and Sahil Kapur.

For more on proposals from congressional Republicans. see BGOV Legislative Analyst Danielle Parnass’s closer looks on a ban on abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization and legislation that would impose penalties if doctors don’t care for a child that survives an abortion procedure.

House Republicans Lose Maverick: Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who had one of the most independent voting streaks in Congress, has died, his office said in a statement. He was 76. Jones had been absent from Congress since September as he battled an illness, and was sworn into his current term at his home in North Carolina. He entered hospice care in January, and died in Greenville, North Carolina, his office said.

Jones was known as an independent voice and vote in Congress that could sometimes vex his party leadership. He was the only Republican to vote against the landmark tax law, saying it would balloon the deficit, and he considered his earlier support of the Iraq war a mistake to be atoned for. National Republicans had tried to run primary challengers against Jones in recent years arguing he didn’t sufficiently back the GOP or Trump’s agenda. However, Jones turned back all of them. Read more from Derek Wallbank and Jack Fitzpatrick.

Virginia Politics: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he’s “not going anywhere” but that the Democratic lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, may have no option but to resign if accusations of sexual assault are determined to be true. “These accusations are very, very serious,” Northam said in an interview broadcast in part on “Face the Nation” yesterday. “They need to be taken seriously.”

The comments come after a week of turmoil in the commonwealth that one opinion poll shows has residents evenly split over the best course of action for Virginia’s top elected officials. The sit-down with CBS was the Democratic governor’s first television interview since a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook emerged on Feb. 1, prompting leading Democrats to call for Northam’s resignation. He said this weekend in the interview with CBS and with the Washington Post on Saturday that he’ ll finish his four-year term in office and use the time to pursue an agenda of racial reconciliation. Read more from Hailey Waller.

Enquirer Publisher on Defensive: The lawyer for the chairman of the National Enquirer’s parent company said there wasn’t any blackmail, extortion or political motivation involved in the fight between the tabloid and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Photos and other details about Bezos’s extramarital affair came from “a reliable source” known to Bezos — and not from Trump, Saudi Arabia or Trump adviser Roger Stone, said Elkan Abramowitz, an attorney for David Pecker, the chairman of American Media. “It was a usual story that N ational Enquirer gets from reliable sources,” Abramowitz said on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday. He didn’t name the source. “It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail.” Read more from Mark Niquette and Hailey Waller.

What Else to Know Today

AI Research Spending: Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that will direct the U.S. government to prioritize artificial intelligence in its research and development spending, according to a White House official.

The order, which comes amid concerns about China’s ambitions to dominate the sector and the likelihood of disruption for workers as the technology automates millions of jobs, doesn’t outline specific funding goals, said the official, who asked not to be named discussing future plans. It does, however, aim to ensure that AI develops in a manner that reflects U.S. values and to push training for the future workforce.

The move occurs less than a week after Trump’s State of the Union address, when he said investments in “cutting edge industries of the future” as part of a broader infrastructure package were “a necessity.” The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy said in a statement during the speech on Tuesday that AI was among the industries Trump was referring to, alongside 5G broadband, advanced manufacturing and others. Read more from Ben Brody.

U.S.-China Tensions: China accused the U.S. of “tricks” as two American warships sailed through waters claimed by Beijing on the eve of high-level trade talks. China’s foreign ministry said the country’s navy “warned off” the U.S. warships Monday as they attempted to assert free navigation rights in the disputed South China Sea. The ships sailed close by Mischief Reef, where China has built an airbase on reclaimed land, and the adjacent Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by the Philippines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying deflected a question about whether the move would impact trade talks expected to get underway tomorrow in Beijing. “You have observed very carefully, and observed a series of tricks by the U.S. side. I believe you all see through these small tricks by the U.S. side,” Hua told a regular news briefing in Beijing. Read more from David Tweed and Lucille Liu.

Preparing for North Korea Summit: Trump is set to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in less than three weeks, yet the biggest question hanging over the leaders’ second summit is why they’re even having it. Since their historic face-to-face meeting in Singapore eight months ago, North Korea has made little progress toward giving up its nuclear weapons and continues to do what it can to evade sanctions. The top U.S. negotiator with Kim’s regime acknowledges that the two sides still don’t agree on what denuclearization might look like or what the U.S. might offer to satisfy him.

Those gaps underscore just how far apart the two sides remain as the clock ticks toward Trump’s second summit with Kim, set for Hanoi on February 27 and 28. The differences have led many of Trump’s critics to argue that the second summit will look a lot like the first, which produced a vague set of principles but little tangible progress. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Youkyung Lee.

Venezuela U.N. Resolution: The U.S. is seeking support for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Venezuela’s government for blocking humanitarian aid from entering the country and calling on President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections. The draft resolution calls for the “immediate start of a political process leading to free, fair, and credible presidential elections,” according to a copy of the document seen by Bloomberg. It also expresses “deep concern about the human rights and humanitarian situat ion in the Republic of Venezuela, including recent attempts to block the delivery of humanitarian aid.” Read more from David Wainer.

Public Lands Vote: The Senate is on the verge of reviving community funding for parks and hiking trails, and making that money permanent to avoid future lapses. A package set for a vote this week combines a long-sought reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund — which expired Sept. 30 — with a 600-page-plus addition that includes various public lands measures popular with dozens of senators from both parties.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is expected to clear a major hurdle today, when the Senate is to hold a cloture vote that would end debate and allow voting on amendments. Read more on the measure from Dean Scott.

Beer Break Lobbying: A coalition of alcohol producers, including Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, are turning up the heat on Congress to make permanent new tax cuts they won as part of the 2017 tax overhaul. The 2017 law gave beer, wine, and spirits producers a two-year federal excise tax reduction worth $4.2 billion—with the deepest cuts going to small domestic brewers, whose tax rates were halved to $3.50 from $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels. The benefit is set to expire at the end of 2019, and brewers, cider makers, vintners, and distilleries are intent on maintaining it. Read more from Allyson Versprille and Jorge Uquillas.

Energy Lobbying: Democrats named to a newly revived House committee on climate change received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil, gas, and utility industries, campaign finance data show. In all, the nine Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, accepted more than $238,000 from sectors tied to the energy industry, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission 2018 campaign spending data by the Center for Responsive Politics. Members of the comm ittee have also received contributions from environmental groups, and renewable energy companies that stand to benefit from the committee’s work. Read more from Ari Natter and Bill Allison.

Movers & Shakeups

Overseas Investment Chief to Resign: Ray Washburne said he plans to step down as head of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., which is boosting funding for projects in the developing world amid increasing competition from China. The agency, which helps U.S. businesses invest in emerging markets, is being transformed into a new entity, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, under the 2018 BUILD Act.

Washburne plans to tell his staff this week he’s leaving March 1 as the search begins for the next leader of the new entity, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision wasn’t public. David Bohigian, OPIC’s executive vice president, is considered likely to step into the agency’s top position after Washburne leaves. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Saudi Arabia’s New UAE Envoy: The former head of a Saudi-owned broadcaster has been sworn in as the kingdom’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, days after the New York Times reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had told him he might use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi. Turki Aldakhil, who was previously general manager of Al Arabiya television, was sworn in by King Salman along with other new ambassadors, state-run SPA news agency reported. Read more from Zainab Fattah.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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