US lawmakers have reached a tentative deal to avert another government shutdown, raising hopes that Congress can pass a spending bill before the Friday deadline if President Donald Trump signs the measure.
Congressional aides said the deal would provide $1.4bn to build 55 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico. But that was far less than the $5.7bn originally sought by Mr Trump to build a wall that he promised during his 2016 election campaign. The agreed funding would pay for the construction of a barrier only one-quarter of the length the White House had previously demanded.
The tentative deal was struck shortly before Mr Trump spoke to supporters at a rally in El Paso, a Texas city on the US-Mexico border, that was designed to both boost support for the wall and to highlight his differences with Democrats, who view the barrier as nothing more than a political gimmick.
“As I was walking up to the stage, they said that progress is being made with this committee. Just so you know, we are building the wall anyway,” Mr Trump said in a reference to the negotiators who have been trying to hammer out a deal for days to avoid a repeat of the previous 35-day partial shutdown.
Congressional representatives on Monday night were continuing to flesh out the tentative agreement. In a sign of discord, however, some Republicans began criticising the deal as the details started to emerge.
Sean Hannity, a Fox News host who is popular with the conservative base, said the deal was a “garbage compromise”.
Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who heads the House Freedom Caucus, one of the most conservative GOP groups, also attacked the plan. “While the President was giving a great speech in El Paso, Congress was putting together a bad deal on immigration,” he wrote on Twitter.
For weeks, House and Senate negotiators have been working to strike an agreement that would satisfy Mr Trump’s demands for funding for the border wall and mollify Democrats who have insisted that they would not give the president any money for it.
Lawmakers suggested that the deal would also resolve a dispute about the number of detention beds allocated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains people who cross into the US without papers
Democrats had been pushing to significantly reduce the number to cut the level of detentions.
ICE currently uses 49,000 beds, breaching a congressionally mandated cap of 40,500. The tentative deal would cut the number of beds to the existing cap by the end of the 2019 fiscal year.
Negotiators were cautiously optimistic that the “agreement in principle” would satisfy both Mr Trump and Democrats, with some Republicans seeing the deal as a compromise that would allow both sides to claim victory.
One congressional aide said the agreement provided an additional $750m that could be spent flexibly, potentially funding another 13,000 detention beds.
Richard Shelby, the Republican head of the Senate appropriations committee, was optimistic that Mr Trump would approve the deal. “We think so. We hope so,” he said.
Negotiators will also need to secure the approval of Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.
While Mr Trump did not give a clear signal about the deal on Monday, he has previously expressed support for Congressional proposals only to reverse course when he comes under fire from the more conservative elements of his base.
Mark Krikorian, the pro-Trump head of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that wants to dramatically reduce immigration, has already hit out at the deal. “Reduction in ICE detention capacity more than cancels out any benefit from that small amount of extra fencing,” said Mr Krikorian.
In Congress, both parties have stressed their strong opposition to another government shutdown. The most recent — the longest in US history — lasted 35 days and hit 800,000 federal workers.
While opinion polls show a majority of Americans blamed the White House for the shutdown, lawmakers of both parties have been skittish of the potential consequences should they fail to keep the government open for a second time in a matter of weeks.
The border wall has already become a theme for the 2020 presidential race.
The stark contrast between Mr Trump and the Democrats was on display in El Paso as Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman who almost beat Ted Cruz in the Texas senate race last November, took part in a march designed to highlight the benefits of immigration to the US.
Mr Trump argued at his rally that El Paso was one of the safest cities in America because the city was walled off from Juarez across the border in Mexico.
Mr O’Rourke, who is considering a run for president, said El Paso was safe because of its immigrants. “Safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Secure because we treat one another with dignity and respect,” he said. “That is the way that we make our communities and our country safe.”
The president mocked Mr O’Rourke by incorrectly claiming that he only had a few hundred people at his march.
“We were all challenged by a young man who lost an election to Ted Cruz . . . a young man who has got little going for himself except he has got a great first name,” Mr Trump said. “We have 35,000 people tonight and he has 200 people, 300 people. That may be the end of his presidential bid.”