GOP rep: Trump may not get full $5.7B for border wall

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Tim Walberg

Lansing — President Donald Trump may need to accept less than half of the border wall funding he is requesting to reach a deal with Democrats to reopen the federal government, said a Michigan Republican hoping for a quick resolution.  

“It should end with a compromise,” U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, told The Detroit News on Sunday.  “We should negotiate it to an end.”

Trump “has to get funding for the wall” as part of any deal to end the partial government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, said Walberg, the second most senior Republican in Michigan's House delegation.

But the president may not get the full $5.6 billion or $5.7 billion he’s asking for, the congressman said

“Maybe it’s two-and-a-half (billion),” Walberg suggested. “I’ve talked to some Democrats who say: 'Yeah, we could do two-and-a-half.'”

The partial government shutdown centers around Trump’s demand for funding to to build a physical wall or barrier along the Southern border and fulfill a 2016 campaign pledge. 

Trump said Monday he'd rejected South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's suggestion to temporarily reopen the government. 

"I'm not interested," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I want to get it solved. I don't want to just delay it." 

The shutdown began over three weeks ago on Dec. 22, affecting nine federal departments or roughly a forth of the government. 

It has affected roughly 800,000 federal workers who are either furloughed or working without pay until the impasse is resolved. Federal workers stung by payless paydays protested last week in downtown Detroit. 

Walberg often sides with the president on policy matters and is one of seven Michigan Republicans in Congress. He thinks a potential deal could center around legal protections for “Dreamers” — immigrants who were illegally brought into the country by their parents when they were kids.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, has also said a potential deal does not need to include the full $5.7 billion Trump is asking for.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, has said he supports border wall funding but has voted with Democrats to reopen the government amid the debate. 

“I really think that if the rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats were doing this deal with the president, we'd have it done already,” Walberg said.

“But I think when you have Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and Minority Leader (Chuck) Schumer in the room committed for whatever reason to no wall, it appears like the problem is that we just don't want the president to get anything he's told the people he would get.”

Elissa Slotkin speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden and democrats campaign at Lansing Community College on Thursday, Nov 1, 2018.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a freshman Democrat from Holly, said both parties are interested in enhancing border security. While she is willing to negotiate, “we shouldn’t hold the federal government hostage to this conversation.”

Trump maintains he has the legal authority to fund the wall by declaring a national emergency at the border but said Monday he is not planning to use that power — at least not now.

"You shouldn't have to. Now, I have the absolute legal right to call it, but I'm not looking to do that because this is too simple," Trump said.

"The Democrats should say, 'We want border security. We have to build a wall, otherwise you can't have border security.'"

If the president does declare an emergency to build the wall, he’ll likely face a legal challenge, and Congress will need to have a “real conversation” about taking action to stop the funding and override a veto, Slotkin said.

“The idea that he would declare an emergency, take money out of the Department of Defense budget and use it for something else, to me is just, it puts us in the category of a different type of government,” Slotkin said, noting her former work as a defense official.

“I've studied autocratic regimes my entire life in the Middle East. I've studied how they use national emergencies to get what they want and contravene democracy. And I just very much hope that does not come to that.”

Walberg said he thinks Trump has the power to declare an emergency to secure funding for the proposed border wall, “but I think, like him, Congress ought to do it.”

“We got to get it done first,” Walberg said in Lansing, where he attended a ceremonial swearing-in for Slotkin that was performed by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (holds a news conference with people who may be negatively affected by the proposed American Health Care Act, the Republicans' attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, outside the U.S. Capitol March 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Stabenow and fellow Democratic and Independent senators urged Republicans to drop their healthcare legislation, saying it would disproportionally affect people with disabilities and women and small business owners.

Stabenow told The News it would be “bad policy” for the president to use emergency powers to fund the border wall and argued that Trump is proposing a “first century” solution to border security.

“When I talk to our border security people in Detroit or Lansing or anywhere, they say, give me more staff, give me technology, give me cameras, give me drones, give me — you know — 21st-century technology,” Stabenow said about northern border staff.

A southern border wall could take a decade to construct and be mired in legal battles, Stabenow predicted, suggesting federal workers are “being held hostage to a debate about what border security looks like.”

“And that’s wrong,” she said, urging the president to separate that debate from the continuing resolution that would allow government to fully reopen.  

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow predicted the Trump administration will have “major legal issues with ranchers along the border … who are furious if the government will confiscate their land” for a wall.

“So this will spend years in court,” she said, “and if it really is an emergency, then support strong border security like we know that is, which is staff, technology, those things that could tomorrow put more security at the border.”

Slotkin said the shutdown has made her first two weeks in Congress a frustrating experience. The first-term Democrat campaigned against the gridlock the federal government remains mired in.

Among freshmen, “there's a group of us, many of us Republicans and Democrats who have been talking in different combinations quietly about what might a deal look like, how would we get it done?” Slotkin said.

“So there is gridlock. But there's also a lot of people who are just not going to accept that this is the way Washington is.”

Melissa Nann Burke contributed.