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Democrats prepare own border security package shunning President Trump’s wall

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The US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 14, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats, feeling pressure to display their vision for border security, are preparing a package that would ignore President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall with Mexico and would instead pay for other ideas aimed at protecting the border.

As the government slogged through a record 33rd day of its partial shutdown Wednesday, details of Democrats’ border security plan and its cost remained a work in progress. Party leaders said it would include money for scanning devices and other technological tools for improving security at ports of entry and along the boundary, plus funds for more border agents and immigration judges.

“If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” said No. 3 House Democratic leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

Democrats’ movement toward producing a plan, which they said they expected to unveil this week, was significant because it underscored a growing uneasiness with letting President  Trump cast them as soft on border security. It came as the Senate prepared for Thursday votes on rival plans for reopening federal agencies and paying 800,000 federal workers who are days from missing yet another paycheck.

Republicans would couple ending the shutdown with financing President Trump’s wall and revamping immigration laws. Democrats would reopen agency doors for three weeks while bargainers seek an accord.

Both faced likely defeat, but that might spur the two sides into a more serious effort to strike a compromise when each saw it lacked the votes to prevail. Both proposals would need 60 votes to pass in a chamber with 53-47 Republican control.

Ominously, the day’s signs pointed to continued partisan hostilities.

President Trump told White House reporters that Democrats had become “radicalized” and “a very, very dangerous party,” and took personal aim at Congress’ top two Democrats. He said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is “very strongly dominated” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling him her “puppet.”

Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Senate Republicans to abandon President Trump despite his sway with conservative voters, saying, “I know that President Trump has some power in these Republican primaries, but sometimes you have to rise to the occasion.”

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Wednesday was the latest indicator that the shutdown is hurting President Trump with the general public. While his approval among Republicans remains strong, just 34 percent of Americans like his performance as president and 6 in 10 assign a great deal of responsibility to him for the shutdown, around double the share blaming Democrats.

The Senate GOP bill would temporarily shield from deportation 700,000 “Dreamers,” migrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, protections President Trump has tried terminating. He’s also offered temporary protections for people who fled violence or natural disasters in several countries — another program President Trump has curtailed.

Democrats have objected to other provisions making it harder for Central American minors to gain asylum in the U.S.

The testy relationship between President Trump and Pelosi, D-Calif., decayed further when she informed him he can’t use the chamber for his planned State of the Union address next Tuesday. She invited him to speak “when government has been opened.”

President Trump said he’d plan an event elsewhere. He called Pelosi’s move “a great blotch on the country” that showed she didn’t want “the truth” about border security. The clash suggested that a collaborative atmosphere that could facilitate a shutdown deal wasn’t at hand.

Democratic leaders have insisted they won’t negotiate with President Trump on border security unless he reopens the government. President Trump has said he’ll end the shutdown only if Congress provides money for the wall, though White House officials have indicated he’s open to counteroffers.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has urged the White House to provide green cards to 700,000 Dreamers as a way to break the impasse. Lankford has mentioned this to White House adviser Jared Kushner, said a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

With Democrats eager to show they’re trying to end the impasse, the House used mostly party-line votes Wednesday to approve one measure reopening government agencies through February. By a similar tally, the chamber voted to finance most shuttered agencies through September.

Growing numbers of House Democrats say the party should show where it stands on border security.

“Right now it’s a vacuum and the president is offering fake plans to stop drug smuggling,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Offering a Democratic alternative “helps the possibility of beginning a real negotiation,” he said.

Their proposal is expected to exceed the $1.6 billion President Trump initially sought for the wall before upping his request.

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