Schumer has rescinded offer to Trump on border wall funding
WASHINGTON - The Senate's top Democrat has withdrawn an offer that would allow President Donald Trump to fulfill a signature campaign pledge: Construction of a wall along the U.S-Mexico border.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took back his offer late Sunday through an aide, according to a person familiar with the situation, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about ongoing talks.
The decision to withdraw the offer to negotiate over the construction of a border wall comes as Schumer is facing strong criticism within his ranks and from liberal organizations angered that he didn't push harder for an immigration deal as part of an agreement to reopen the federal government.
By signaling a willingness to pay for construction of a border wall, Schumer was offering to help Trump fulfill a cornerstone campaign pledge - after little consultation with most Democrats.
Schumer and Trump met at the White House last Friday and dined on cheeseburgers with senior aides as they tried reaching an 11th-hour deal to avert a government shutdown. They were unable to hammer out an accord, sparking a three-day partial government shutdown that ended Monday evening.
On Tuesday, two Republican senators, John Cornyn, R-Texas, and David Perdue, R-Ga., revealed that Trump and Schumer discussed a $25 billion package to pay for security measures along the southern border. That sum is far larger than the $18 billion the Trump administration told lawmakers this month that it would need to build out fencing and wall along the border over the next decade.
During the discussion, Trump and Schumer agreed that most of the $25 billion would be appropriated at the start, with other amounts doled out in future years, according to a person familiar with the meeting, granted anonymity to speak frankly about the exchange.
Aides to Schumer did not return requests for comment.
Over the weekend, Schumer described the meeting several times in public remarks, saying that Trump "picked a number for the wall, and I accepted it." At other points Schumer said he "reluctantly" agreed to discuss constructing a wall - but never revealed the sum.
Aides to Trump have disputed details of the meeting.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, "Once Schumer started talking about the president backing away from the deal that never existed, he said he offered the president everything on the wall and the military. That just wasn't true. . .The president knew Schumer was mistreating him."
"It is great to be on a winning side of a shutdown debate," Mulvaney said in an interview with The Post on Monday. "I can tell you right now from first hand experience, Chuck Schumer is in a tough spot."
Matt House, top spokesman for Schumer, said, "Director Mulvaney once again isn't telling the truth. Senator Schumer offered the president everything he asked for on the border and more than he asked for on defense."
In exchange, Schumer has been seeking Trump's support to legalize the status of young undocumented immigrants whose futures have been cast into doubt by the president's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on March 5.
Schumer and most Democrats voted Monday to end the three-day government shutdown after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that he intends to bring up a bill addressing DACA and other immigration matters in February.
Perdue, who did not attend the White House meeting on Friday, but said he has learned details about it, said that the agreement over $25 billion is an encouraging sign.
"The question is now, is how do you wrap the rest of this around the deal, and that's where we are, and I'm very hopeful that we'll get this done," he said.
Cornyn dismissed the focus on paying for border wall, saying that Democrats "are obsessed with that topic. But it is clearly part of a system of border security infrastructure that everybody agreed is needed."
He called Schumer's decision to withdraw acceptance of the $25 billion sum "a step backward. If he wants a solution, that's a step backward."
Even if Trump pressed for tens of billions of dollars in border wall funds, senior members of his administration have told lawmakers that they believe such construction is unnecessary.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week that "A concrete wall from sea to shining sea" would not be built, according to attendees. Instead, "a physical barrier in many places" is what the administration is requesting. Kelly used the term "physical barrier" several times during the meeting, attendees said.
Instead of a wall along the entire span, "we need 700 more miles of barrier," Kelly said - a concession that a physical barrier does not need to stretch the entire length of the border.
Kelly also said that there will be no wall "that Mexico will pay for." Trump vowed as a presidential candidate to force Mexico to pay for construction of the wall.
Some Democrats on Tuesday said they would reluctantly agree to Trump's security demands if it means protecting young immigrant "dreamers" from being deported once DACA expires.
"Anything you put up you can take it down. But you can't bring back kids that have been deported," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a vocal opponent of Trump's immigration stance. He added that he's willing to go along with more money for border protection since it likely will be held up by litigation anyway.
During the private meeting with Hispanic lawmakers, "Even Kelly admitted there will be lawsuits," Gutierrez said. "In my mind, it'd be pretty difficult to build, so why don't I go and support it and get the dreamers and put them in a safe place?"
Far from Washington, opposition to a border wall remains strong, as does fear that policymakers will permit the construction of more physical barriers between the two countries.
"A border wall is not the answer to the immigration issue, as it adversely impacts border communities and drives migrants to more remote areas of the desert, possibly to their deaths," Mark J. Seitz, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso said on Tuesday. "Perhaps this is not a big deal to folks in Washington, but it is on the border, which is still part of the United States."