White House

Trump on border deal: ‘I can’t say I’m thrilled’

Special panel’s leaders have said only they ‘hope’ president would support agreement

President Donald Trump is joined by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) in the Rose Garden of the White House on Jan. 4. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump showed his first cards Tuesday about a bipartisan border security deal that falls well short of his $5.7 billion funding demand for a U.S.-Mexico border barrier.

“I can’t say I’m happy,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting. “I can’t say I’m thrilled.”

He indicated he plans to meet with senior lawmakers soon to discuss the compromise plan. He would need to sign it by 11:59 p.m. Friday to avoid another partial government shutdown, following one in December and January that lasted for 35 days and his White House acknowledged damaged the economy.

Sources familiar with the agreement said it would provide $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the southern border and would reduce the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds for undocumented immigrants apprehended in the country by 17.4 percent. The agreement does not include a cap on detention beds used for interior enforcement that Democrats proposed and led to a breakdown in the negotiations over the weekend.

Watch: Senate leaders praise border security deal

Trump only got $1.375 billion to build 55 miles of barriers along the southwest border; that’s shy of the $1.6 billion for 65 miles that Senate appropriators approved on a bipartisan basis last June. 

[Top appropriators reach ‘agreement in principle’ on funding border security, rest of government]

What’s more, he has demanded $5.7 billion in barrier funds for weeks — and Vice President Mike Pence offered Senate Democrats around $2.6 billion just before Christmas. Trump was pressured by conservative opinion-shapers to oppose a Senate-passed bill last year that called for $1.6 billion in border wall funding.

That all means the president got a worse deal than he would have secured, had he ignored the conservative radio and television personalities in December.

Trump described himself as “extremely unhappy with what the Democrats have given us” even though the House-Senate panel featured members of both parties.

In a remark that could derail the pact, the president said he is “adding things to it.”

“I’m not happy about it. It’s not doing the trick,” Trump said. “Am I happy? The answer is no, I’m not. I’m not happy.”

Still, the president predicted “I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,” but already was trying to deflect blame.

“If you did have it, it’s the Democrats fault,” he said. “I would hope that there won’t be a shutdown,” he said, not ruling it out.

In a vintage Trump comment, Trump replied this when asked if he is considering declaring a national emergency to unlock Pentagon funds for his border barrier: “I’m considering everything.”

 

Conservative Republicans and talk-show hosts have already come out blasting. Trump ally and Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night called the bipartisan pact a “garbage compromise.”

[Hannity blasts border security deal: ‘Well, that is insane’]

“This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration. It kicks the can down the road yet again, failing to address the critical priorities outlined by Border Patrol Chiefs,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted Monday night.

Meadows called on Trump in a subsequent tweet Tuesday to “take executive action” to fund a wall, perhaps by declaring a border emergency.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., embraced the deal struck by Appropriations Committee leaders Monday night on the floor Tuesday.

McConnell said the deal came together because Democrats dropped demands related to capping internal ICE detainees and their position of “not one dollar” for border barriers.

“Fortunately our Democratic colleagues did abandon those unreasonable positions and negotiations were able to move forward productively,” he said. “I look forward to reviewing this full text as soon as possible,” McConnell said, adding he hoped the Senate could act on the legislation “in short order.”

White House officials on Tuesday morning, some bleary-eyed from the early morning arrival from a  rally in El Paso, were eager to avoid even giving a hint at the president’s position before the boss spoke for himself. But Trump was not exactly eager to learn about what House and Senate negotiators had agreed to when he landed in Texas Monday evening.

“They say that progress is being made. Just so you know. Just now, just now,” he told the rowdy crowd, referring to his staff. “I said, ’Wait a minute, I gotta take care of my people from Texas. I’ve got to go. I don’t even want to hear about it.”

“I chose you,” Trump said to loud applause. “So we probably have some good news — but who knows?!”

When asked if he had reassurance Trump would sign the legislation, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said: "Reassurance is a strong term, especially around here. We'll just have to see. He could sign it, I think he could sign it, but he might not.”

“It depends - what do you get next? What's the alternative?” he said, before issuing this word of caution to the president: “It's not good."

When pressed on what he expects Trump will do come week’s end, Shelby replied: “Well, I think we've got to do our job, which we've done, and the next step is to file it, and let the House and Senate vote on it.

“And then the president can do and say what he wants to about it. I think it's, considering where we are in negotiation, you don't get everything you want,” he said. “But we think we've got a pretty good deal, considering. Is it everything I want? Absolutely not, you know?”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.