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February 18, 2019

‘Poison pill demand’ by Dems to cap number of ICE detention beds could doom budget talks, McConnell says

February 13, 2019
House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey speaks to reporters as she walks out of a closed-door meeting at the Capitol as bipartisan House and Senate bargainers trying to negotiate a border security compromise in hope of avoiding another government shutdown on Capitol Hill. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

WASHINGTON — Talks to keep the government open spiraled into uncertainty Monday as President Donald Trump took to Twitter to slam Democrats as “crazy,” and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed his charges on the Senate floor.

The breakdown in negotiations centered on a Democrat request for government funding and border security that they rolled out more than two weeks ago. They said they wanted to cap the number of beds available for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people in the United States at 16,500, which is roughly the number at the end of the Obama administration.

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But Trump hammered that stance as some new request.

“The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!” Trump tweeted.

McConnell followed up with with remarks at the Senate’s opening later, calling the ICE detention demand “really extreme.”

“House Democrats decided to add a poison pill demand into the conversations at the 11th hour. It’s a new demand,” McConnell said.

“This is a poison pill that no administration, not this one, not the previous one, would or should ever accept,” said McConnell. “Imagine the absurdity of this. House Democrats want to set a limit on how many criminal aliens our government can detain.”

The government will partially shutdown again on Feb. 15 if the sides cannot work out a deal. On the House side, legislation is supposed to be public for 72 hours before votes, meaning the funding bill would have to be released Tuesday. The requirement could be waived.

The cap on interior detention beds for ICE was not part of the original battle when Trump refused to sign funding legislation the end of last year, but Democrats were clear they wanted the cap at the start of these talks.

They argued over the weekend that the point of the cap was to ensure that the president actually targets criminals, not just undocumented people who are otherwise law-abiding.

“For far too long, the Trump administration has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

The outbursts on Twitter and the Senate floor took lead House negotiator Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) aback.

“I’ve worked with Mitch McConnell, and we’ve accomplished a lot together,” said Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations committee. “I’m sorry that that is his interpretation of where things are.”

Neither Lowey nor other members of the conference committee working on the funding package expressed the same level of optimism they had before.

Asked if a deal was getting closer, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, “I can’t tell yet. We’re trying to discuss seriously some obstacles to an agreement.”

“I wish we could have concluded it, and I’d walk out and say ‘Hallelujah!’ but we’re still having discussions,” Lowey said.

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