McConnell wants border deal without ‘dysfunction’

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, January 30, 2019

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday criticized both tactics that President Donald Trump has threatened to wield if congressional bargainers fail to craft a border security deal he supports: triggering a fresh government shutdown or declaring a national emergency so he can divert federal funds into building his prized border wall.

“I’m for narrow or broader,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters when asked to describe the breadth of a bipartisan border security accord that he’d back. “I’m for whatever works that would prevent the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month and also doesn’t bring about a view on the president’s part that he needs to declare a national emergency.”

The remarks by McConnell, who seemed to include Trump in his intended audience, underscored the GOP’s eagerness to put the past month’s confrontations between Trump and Congress behind them without more jarring clashes. Reporters had not specifically asked McConnell about a shutdown or a possible emergency declaration, and it was noteworthy that the guarded lawmaker volunteered his opinions.

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McConnell spoke three days after the end of a record 35-day partial federal shutdown, which Trump initiated after Democrats refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build segments of his long-sought Southwest border wall.

The president surrendered last Friday and agreed to reopen government for three weeks so negotiators can seek a border security deal, but with no commitments for wall funds. Polls show that people chiefly blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown and the proposed border wall with Mexico is widely unpopular.

House-Senate bargainers from both parties plan their first negotiating session for Wednesday.

Some lawmakers have suggested broadening whatever package emerges, such as adding protections from deportation for young “Dreamer” immigrants in the U.S. illegally or making it harder for future shutdowns to occur. Disagreements over those issues make their inclusion unlikely, most lawmakers say.

McConnell was one of many Republicans signaling a desire to lower the intensity level of the conflict.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Tuesday that any agreement does not need to include the word “wall.” The comment signaled the GOP’s latest rhetorical retreat from a battle cry — “Build the wall!” — that Trump made a keystone of his presidential campaign.

“It could be barrier. It doesn’t have to be a wall,” McCarthy told reporters.

Trump has retreated increasingly from “wall” as it became apparent that he lacked the votes in Congress to win taxpayer financing for the project, which he initially said would be financed by Mexico.

“They can name it ‘Peaches,’” Trump said earlier this month. “I don’t care what they name it.  But we need money for that barrier.”

He’s also recently tweeted a new mantra, “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!”

McCarthy said wall and barrier mean the same thing to him and Trump.

“Inside the meetings we’ve had, he’s said it could be a barrier, it could be a wall,” said McCarthy. “Because what a barrier does, it’s still the same thing. It’s the 30-foot steel slat, that’s a barrier.”