Congress

Shelby: Trump SOTU didn’t move the needle on border security talks

Senate Appropriations chairman was still looking ahead to meeting with experts on Wednesday

The State of the Union did not change the course of the border security conference committee, said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If President Donald Trump’s lengthy State of the Union remarks on immigration were intended to change the course of the congressional talks on border security, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

Trump’s speech does not seem to have changed the dynamic much at all when it comes to negotiating a House-Senate spending compromise that the president would like to include funding for a physical border wall. At least, that was the view of Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby.

“We’ve heard it before. I haven’t heard anything new tonight,” the Alabama Republican told a small group of reporters late Tuesday night. “He reiterated his position, which he’s continued to do.”

“Tomorrow, we might create a dynamic to move us together, or we might not, but we’re going to hear from the professionals,” Shelby said, touting the conference committee’s plan to meet with Customs and Border Protection officials who are not political appointees.

“The tone, I mentioned this earlier today, seems to be good. I talked to Nita about five or six o’clock today,” he said, referring to House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y. “I think they want to do it. We want to do it. We’re working hard at it.”

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, a fellow appropriator and member of the conference, was particularly troubled by Trump’s focus on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

“It is sickening for him to dwell on these statistics, criminal statistics involving immigrants when we know historically, the rate of crime committed by these immigrants is lower than the general population,” the Illinois Democrat said. “I could see the big smile on the faces of the immigrant haters.”

But Durbin said that he still thought the conference committee should work to get a result that could at least make it to Trump’s desk for a potential signature.

“What I heard from McConnell today was we should go about our business and finish this job,” Durbin said. “Let’s see if we can override the veto if we have to.”

Durbin was referring to comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made earlier in the day Tuesday, saying he was hoping the conferees would strike a deal, regardless of what the president’s position was. 

“The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border,” Trump said, noting the next government funding deadline.

As Trump was speaking, the White House circulated talking points highlighting the president’s interest in “working with Congress to solve our urgent immigration crisis,” but the document did not specify a price tag.

Drawing in part from the president’s speech, the document said Trump was, “urging Congress to pass legislation to address the crisis at the border, which includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall.”

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