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Congressional leaders plan votes on border security agreement

President Donald Trump during a Cabinet meeting at

President Donald Trump during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Tuesday. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers late Wednesday finished writing legislation embodying the agreement on border security and appropriations to avoid another shutdown and planned for votes in the Senate and House — hoping that President Donald Trump signs the bill.

With a Friday midnight deadline to fund six agencies, lawmakers worked into the night to address differences on issues such as extending the Violence Against Women Act, which also expires Friday, and reimbursing federal contractor workers who lost pay in the shutdown.

The Senate is expected to consider and pass the legislation Thursday and the House is expected to pass it Thursday evening, a congressional aide said — and then it is up to the president to accept the deal, or not.

Trump said Wednesday he'll be looking for "land mines" in the final bipartisan border security deal before deciding whether to sign it, telling reporters at the White House that he does not want to see a shutdown. "A shutdown would be a terrible thing," he said.

"We have options that most people don't understand," Trump told reporters, alluding to his previous statements that he can redirect taxpayer dollars from other government projects to put toward his $5.7 billion southern border wall.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking to reporters outside the West Wing on Wednesday morning, said Trump “isn’t fully happy” with the "in principle" deal announced on Monday, but saw some “positive” aspects to the agreement assembled by congressional negotiators.

The agreement provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border security barriers along Texas' Rio Grande Valley, far less than the $5.7 billion Trump was seeking for a wall along the U.S. and Mexico border.

"The president isn’t fully happy, as he said yesterday with everything that’s in the legislation, but there are some positive pieces of it," Sanders said.

“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like. It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it,” she said.

 The final legislative language for the agreement on border security and six other appropriations bills for unfunded agencies was hammered out by a 17-member bipartisan group from the House and Senate.

But negotiators from the two parties faced stark differences, even though leaders in both parties have said they do not want to see another shutdown and support the compromise agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats for insisting on including a tougher version of the Violence Against Women Act, instead of just extending the current law.

“I don’t know what cynical ploy my Democratic colleagues may be trying to pull, but surely no political maneuvering should be worth letting the Violence Against Women Act lapse this Friday — two days from now,” McConnell said. “So, it’s time to get this done.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) revealed a Democratic proposal to give back pay to federal contractors who went uncompensated during the shutdown, which Republicans have resisted.

“We are trying to get the conferees to approve a proposal to deal with federal contracts. Thousands of federal contractors have not been reimbursed from the 35-day shutdown,” Schumer said. “This issue is still hanging in the balance.”

Despite those differences, McConnell boosted the agreement on the Senate floor, acknowledging it won't be a "perfect deal," but saying it would be a "good deal."

He said it "provides another significant down payment on the president’s plan to secure our nation’s borders," gives ICE the ability "to continue responding to surges in illegal immigration and lets Trump "direct additional funding toward urgent homeland security priorities."

Sanders reiterated that Trump was looking to avoid a second shutdown, despite the president boasting at a campaign rally on Monday that the recent five-week shutdown helped “show this country, what the hell is happening with the border. That was a very important thing we did.”

Asked about the president’s defense of the recent 35-day shutdown, Sanders said: “I think that the American people have a better understanding of the true crisis, the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill worked to hash out the final details of the deal, Sanders did not rule out Trump taking unilateral action to redirect taxpayer dollars from other government initiatives to pay for the remainder of the wall.

“The president’s got a number of options, he’s going to keep all those on the table,” Sanders said. “We’ll make a determination of what is necessary, based on what the final piece of legislation looks like.”

Trump on Tuesday also indicated he would possibly look at redirecting other sources of government funding to supplement the money appropriated by Congress in the deal.

“The bottom line is — on the wall — we're building the wall,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “And we're using other methods . . . We have a lot of money in this country, and we're using some of that money — a small percentage of that money — to build the wall, which we desperately need.”


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