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Senate OKs border deal; Trump will sign, declare emergency

By ALAN FRAM, ANDREW TAYLOR and JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate resoundingly approved a border-security compromise Thursday that ignores most of President Donald Trump’s demands for building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico but would prevent a new government shutdown. The White House said Trump would sign it but then declare a national emergency and perhaps invoke other executive powers to try to shift money from elsewhere in the federal budget to wall-building.

Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, quickly said such a presidential declaration would be “a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.”

House passage and Trump’s signature were assured for the basic spending bill compromise, which for now would stamp a bipartisan coda on a nasty melee that’s dominated the initial months of power sharing in Washington.

The specter of the national-emergency declaration has produced widespread opposition in Congress, but Trump is under pressure to soothe conservatives and avoid looking as if he’s surrendered in his wall battle with Congress.

At the White House, Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump would sign the bill and take “other executive action, including a national emergency.” She added, “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

Trump had demanded $5.7 billion to start building more than 200 miles of wall. The bipartisan agreement provides less than $1.4 billion — enough for just 55 miles of new barriers and fencing.

An emergency declaration and other assertions of executive power to access money are expected to prompt lawsuits and votes in Congress aimed at blocking Trump from diverting money, which could conceivably reach into the billions of dollars. White House aides and congressional Republicans have suggested Trump might tap money set aside for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.

In a surprising development, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support Trump’s emergency declaration. That was a turnabout for the Kentucky Republican, who, like Democrats and many Republicans, has until now opposed such action.

Democratic opponents of a declaration have said there is no crisis at the border and Trump is merely sidestepping Congress, while Republicans have warned that future Democratic presidents could use such a declaration to force spending on their own priorities like gun control.

But lawmakers from both parties were openly relieved to forestall a fresh federal shutdown and put the border security battle — at least this phase of it — behind them.

Meeting with reporters, House Speaker Pelosi, warned that legal action aimed at blocking Trump’s emergency declaration was an option, but she stopped short of saying it would definitely occur.

The Senate approved the border security deal by a lopsided 83-16 tally. The House planned to vote on passage in the evening.

Trump’s signature will end this stage of a raucous legislative battle that began before Christmas and was ending, almost fittingly, on Valentine’s Day. The low point was the historically long 35-day partial federal shutdown, which Trump sparked and was in full force when Democrats took control of the House, compelling him to share power for the first time.

Trump yielded on the shutdown on Jan. 25 after public opinion turned against him and congressional Republicans. He’d won not a nickel of the $5.7 billion he’d demanded for his wall but had caused missed paychecks for legions of federal workers and contractors and lost government services for countless others. It was a political fiasco for Trump and an early triumph for Pelosi.

The fight left both parties dead set against another shutdown. That sentiment weakened Trump’s hand and fueled the bipartisan deal, a pact that contrasts with the parties’ still-raging differences over health care, taxes and investigations of the president.

Notably, the word “wall” — which fueled many a chant at Trump campaign events and then his rallies as president — does not appear once in the compromise’s 1,768 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. “Barriers” and “fencing” are the nouns of choice.

The pact would also squeeze funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in an attempt to pressure the agency to gradually detain fewer immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave in place an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands more immigrants than it did last year.

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