House Democrats Add $1 Billion In Border-Related Spending To Measures To Reopen Government


© Reuters Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a press briefing on the 27th day of a partial government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (THE NEW YORK TIMES) — House Democrats have added more than $1 billion in border-related spending to a package of funding bills that would reopen most of the government, even as President Trump said he would have a “major announcement” on Saturday about the border and the shutdown stalemate.

Both sides’ actions were the first indications of possible movement over the shutdown after a week of inertia and harsh words between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Trump. That conflict culminated when the president, responding to Ms. Pelosi’s request that he postpone his State of the Union address, announced on Thursday that he would not authorize the use of a military plane to fly her and other members of Congress to Afghanistan to meet with American troops.

Ms. Pelosi said Friday she was postponing the trip after the White House leaked her alternative plan to use a commercial airline because she had been advised it was too dangerous.

“Why would Nancy Pelosi leave the Country with other Democrats on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid?” Mr. Trump asked on Twitter before Ms. Pelosi’s office had announced the postponement. The trip had actually been scheduled for six days, departing late Thursday and returning on Tuesday.

The proposal to include more spending on border measures is scheduled for a vote next week, according to two senior Democratic officials. The plan reflects a shift in strategy by congressional Democrats, who have maintained that they would not give the president a counterproposal until he drops his insistence on a wall and signs legislation to reopen the government. It is an attempt to rebut Mr. Trump’s repeated portrayal of Democrats as opponents of border security and their denunciation of his wall as an embrace of open borders.

About half the money, $524 million, would be for additional infrastructure at ports of entry on the border, one Democrat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans have not been formally announced, while $563 million more would be inserted to fund 75 immigration judges, who adjudicate the claims of migrants who make asylum claims at the border.

The funds were incorporated into a package of six spending bills that House and Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed to last year, and which cover funding for all the closed portions of the federal government except for the Department of Homeland Security.

Democrats are also considering a new funding bill for the department, which has $1.3 billion allocated for border security. The proposal would include additional border protection measures they have endorsed, such as more personnel and scanning technology to intercept illicit drugs.

It is far from clear whether the strategy will lead anywhere given Mr. Trump’s demand that any such measure must include money for his wall. Over the past two weeks, the House has passed an array of bills to reopen the government, including several Republican-drafted measures, only to be blocked by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who says he will not bring up any bill the president will not sign.

But the ideas amount to a tacit acknowledgment by Democrats that, even as they criticize Mr. Trump’s tactics and demands in the shutdown fight, they have largely allowed him to define the terms of the debate on border security, and that they must be more effective in articulating their own position on the issue.

“People want to make sure that it’s clear that the Democrats do stand for border security, and not allow the president to determine how we talk about it,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California. “We can’t cave to his vision for a wall, because of everything that it represents, but we also want to show that we’re for something.”

The issue came up in a meeting of the Democratic caucus this week as Ms. Pelosi was briefing rank-and-file lawmakers about her latest broadside against Mr. Trump over the shutdown: her letter requesting that he delay or cancel his State of the Union address this month in light of the security measures that would have to be provided by federal workers who are working without pay. Mr. Trump’s response was to prevent Ms. Pelosi from taking her trip on a military plane.

His letter to Ms. Pelosi announcing that step also disclosed her itinerary, which was secret given that Afghanistan was her destination. Official congressional trips are kept confidential for security reasons, particularly when they involve travel to war zones and high-ranking leaders like the speaker, who is second in line to the presidency.

“You never give advance notice of going into a battle area — you just never do,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol, adding that Mr. Trump may not have understood that because of his inexperience.

“The people around him, though, should have known that,” she said. “That’s very dangerous.”

After Ms. Pelosi rushed to salvage the trip by making alternative travel arrangements to fly commercial instead, people close to Mr. Trump who had been briefed revealed the speaker’s plans to reporters late Thursday. By dawn on Friday, said Drew Hammill, her deputy chief of staff, facing a heightened State Department threat assessment and amid concern that the administration’s leaks had further compromised the safety of those involved, Ms. Pelosi canceled the trip.

A White House official on Friday denied the charge, saying that there was no way for Ms. Pelosi to have kept her trip a secret and that any suggestion of a leak “is a flat-out lie.”

Ms. Pelosi was asked by reporters on Friday whether she considered Mr. Trump’s grounding of her plane a reprisal for her request to delay his speech. “I would hope not,” she said. “I don’t think the president would be that petty, do you?”

Mr. Trump had been just as pointed in his letter to Ms. Pelosi a day earlier, writing that with federal workers not receiving their paychecks, he was asking her to delay what he branded a “public relations event.”

As the bad blood continued between the president and the speaker, the White House announced a new policy on Friday that banning all official, taxpayer-funded congressional travel for the duration of the shutdown, unless lawmakers had direct approval from Mr. Trump’s team.

“Under no circumstances during a government shutdown will any government-owned, rented, leased or chartered aircraft support any congressional delegation, without the express written approval of the White House chief of staff,” Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a memo announcing the change.

Travel expenses also will not be paid for such trips, the memo said, suggesting that even if lawmakers sought to keep their plans and fly commercial, they would have to pay personally for the trip.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was on one such trip to Turkey this week. Asked whether Mr. Graham would have to cover his travel and expenses, his office referred questions to the White House.

An administration official said the policy would not apply to Mr. Graham’s trip, since he had departed before the change was made.

Annie Karni and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.