Talks to avert a second government shutdown over border wall funding broke down on Sunday, and Republicans and Democrats have stopped communicating for now, according to two people familiar with the state of the talks.
The latest sticking point appears to be over detention beds operated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the person said.
"The talks are stalled right now," Republican Senator Richard Shelby told "Fox News Sunday" after a dispute over immigrant detentions. He said he hoped negotiators would return to the table soon.
Shelby said talks were suspended over the issue but he hoped negotiators would come back to the table soon.
"I am hoping we can get off the dime later in the day or the morning," he said. "We have some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE detaining criminals ... They want a cap on them. We don't want a cap on that."
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said Sunday that a shutdown isn’t the most likely option but that he “absolutely cannot” rule it out.“He’s going to do whatever he legally can to secure the border,” Mulvaney said of President Donald Trump on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of two scheduled appearances on Sunday talk shows.
“You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7 (billion) off the table,” he said, referring to the level of funds Trump has been demanding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Mulvaney spoke as Congressional negotiators continue talks on a security plan that includes some sort of barrier on the border, hoping to complete a deal to avert another government shutdown. It wasn’t fair to say that Trump would sign whatever Congress comes up with, Mulvaney said, terming the level of proposed border wall funding “all over the map.”
Trump himself chimed in late Sunday morning via Twitter.
"I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal. They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!" Trump tweeted.
"It was a very bad week for the Democrats, with the GREAT economic numbers, The Virginia disaster and the State of the Union address," he continued. "Now, with the terrible offers being made by them to the Border Committee, I actually believe they want a Shutdown. They want a new subject!"
As of Saturday it had seemed that negotiators were homing in on a proposal with border barrier funding of between $1.3 billion and $2 billion, said a person familiar with the talks.
Trump was back in the fray late Saturday afternoon, indicating in a tweet that if Democrats didn’t give him all the wall money he’s demanded, he may use executive action to build it. Democrats have warned such action would face court challenges, and some Republicans have suggested it’s an option best avoided.
Participants had said they expected money for physical barriers to end up well below the $5.7 billion that Trump has sought to begin construction of the wall, which has attained iconic significance for him and his conservative supporters. Underscoring the clout he's lost during a battle that's dominated the opening weeks of divided government, the amount seems sure to fall much closer to $1.6 billion, the participants said, a figure that was in a bipartisan Senate bill last year.
"That's what we're working toward," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., one bargainer.
An agreement would also avert a new partial federal shutdown next weekend. Trump has warned he might trigger a new closure of agencies if he doesn't get his way, but that threat has become toothless because of solid opposition from GOP lawmakers burned by the record 35-day closure that he initiated in December.
One White House aide said Trump had been expected to back whatever compromise emerges and acknowledged there is no will among congressional Republicans for another shutdown. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Coupled with a widespread expectation that the agreement would not use the term "wall," the pact would represent a significant retreat for Trump, for whom "Build the wall!" has been a battle cry since his presidential campaign.
Democrats seemed to draw a firm line on spending.
"Throughout the talks, Democrats have insisted that a border security compromise not be overly reliant on physical barriers," said Evan Hollander, spokesman for Democrats who control the House Appropriations Committee. "We will not agree to $2 billion in funding for barriers."
In another signal that Trump was reluctantly preparing to give ground, the White House has been considering accepting the deal but also using executive action to secure additional barrier funding without lawmakers' approval. That plan was described by two people familiar with White House thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Depending on what Trump does, such an action could spark lawsuits or congressional votes of disapproval.
Trump supporters have said there are other executive powers Trump could use to divert money from the budget to wall construction, though it was unclear if they would face challenges in Congress or the courts. One provision of the law lets the Defense Department provide support for counter-drug activities.
Besides the dollar figure, talks were focusing on the type and location of barriers, participants said. Also in play were the number of beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could have for detained migrants and the amount of aid included for natural disaster relief.
Money for high-tech surveillance equipment and more personnel was also expected to be included.
No one ruled out last-minute problems, especially with Trump's penchant for head-snapping turnabouts. But the momentum was clearly toward clinching an agreement that Congress could pass by next Friday. The next day, many government agencies would run out of money and have to close again without a deal.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said he spoke Thursday night to Trump, who he said was in "wait and see" mode. Meadows said he expects an agreement to provide an amount closer to $1.6 billion.
"I'm not optimistic it'll be something the president can support," Meadows said.
A conservative House GOP aide said Freedom Caucus members wanted at least $2 billion for barriers and no restrictions on new construction, land acquisition or new types of barriers that could be built.
The aide also said the agreement need not contain the term "wall," a word that Trump has lately alternated between embracing and abandoning. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.
If there is a bipartisan deal, there would likely be enough votes to pass it without the most conservative Republicans or the most liberal Democrats.