WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - U.S. congressional negotiators on Tuesday were hopeful lawmakers would pass a deal to avert another partial government shutdown, even as it remained unclear whether Republican President Donald Trump would back an agreement containing funds for border security but not a wall.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will get this through,” Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told CNN in an interview early on Tuesday after news of the tentative pact broke late on Monday. “We cannot shut the government down.”
Asked if Trump had signaled support for the bipartisan deal, Lowey did not answer directly, but said it had the backing of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, who control the lower chamber.
On Monday, Republican Senator Richard Shelby said the congressional committee charged by Trump to address border security and government funding had agreed in principle to pay for border security programs through Sept. 30.
Lawmakers want to avoid repeating the recent 35-day government shutdown that shuttered key agencies, roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay. They face a Saturday deadline to find a solution before current funding expires again.
Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the nation’s southern border with Mexico triggered the previous shutdown in late December despite fellow Republicans holding both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
By late January, the president backed down and agreed to re-open the roughly one-quarter of the government that had closed and called for a congressional committee to hammer out a plan. Any agreement now must pass a House controlled by Democrats, who took over the chamber last month.
Congressional aides said on Monday the latest deal did not contain $5.7 billion for Trump’s long-promised wall, a cornerstone of his presidential campaign that he had said would be paid for by Mexico and not by U.S. taxpayers.
A final agreement is expected by late Wednesday.
Congressional sources said it will include $1.37 billion for new fencing along 55 miles (90 km) of the southern border but only with currently used designs, such as “steel bollard” fencing. It will also address immigrant detention beds.
Still, it was unclear if Trump would sign the measure into law given its backing from congressional Republicans, or side with vocal conservative commentators who have the president’s ear such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, who late on Monday called it a “garbage compromise.” Democrats oppose the wall but support border security efforts.
Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress does not give him wall money.
“Just so you know - we’re building the wall anyway,” Trump said at a rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas, shortly after the deal was reached. “Maybe progress has been made - maybe not.”
Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from Texas considering a 2020 White House run, accused Trump at a counter-rally nearby of stoking “false fear” about immigrants and telling “lies” about O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.
Without new funds, federal agencies would again have to suspend some activities this weekend, ranging from maintenance of national parks to the publishing of important economic data.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland in Washington and Roberta Rampton in El Paso, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney, Lisa Lambert and Bernadette Baum