The Senate and the House have passed a border security bill and sent it to President Trump’s desk for his signature. Congressional leaders from both parties have urged the president to sign it in order to avoid another government shutdown, even though it provides significantly less funding for a border wall than President Trump wanted. The Senate vote was 83-16 and it passed in the House 300-128.
The president indicated he would sign it, but with a caveat: he would declare a national emergency at the same time. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed on the Senate floor on February 14 that the president had informed him of his plan over the phone. Sen. McConnell said he would support President Trump’s declaration. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later confirmed that plan in a statement shared to social media. President Trump announced from the Rose Garden on February 15 that he was declaring a national emergency.
The bill was drafted by a bipartisan committee that had been assigned to work out a border security compromise. It provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles of bollard-style fencing and an overall $1.7 billion increase in spending for the Department of Homeland Security.
President Trump has repeatedly requested $5.7 billion for a wall. The bill falls far short of that demand. It’s also less than the $1.6 billion that was proposed in December by Senate Democrats for border security. You can read through the entire spending bill, which includes six additional appropriations bills and is 1,159 pages long, here.
President Trump said he was “not happy” about the proposal. Congressional Republicans, Sen. McConnell, had urged the president to accept the deal, avoid another shutdown, and transfer funds from other areas for additional miles of wall.
A national emergency would likely not be implemented immediately. According to officials at the Justice Department, a judge would likely block it temporarily. ABC News, citing a senior administration official, reports that the White House is confident the emergency declaration would go through on appeal, if necessary.
How did we get here?
Here’s what you need to know.
1. A Bipartisan Committee of 8 Republicans & 9 Democrats Was Tasked With Finding a Compromise Solution on Immigration & Border Security
The federal government reopened on January 25, 2019, after the president and Congress agreed on a three-week clean spending resolution. The temporary measure ended the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which had stretched to 35 days. It did not include any funds for a wall along the southern border. The president agreed to this resolution on the promise that a bipartisan committee would figure out a solution by February 15.
The group, which consisted of 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans from both the House and Senate, were tasked with bridging the gap and reaching a deal that could satisfy both sides.
The Senate members included:
Sen. Richard Shelby (R- Alabama)
Sen. Roy Blunt, (R-Missouri)
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia)
Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota)
Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont)
Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-Illinois)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana)
The House members included:
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York)
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, (D-California)
Rep. David Price, (D-North Carolina)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California)
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California)
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas)
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tennessee)
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Georgia)
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi)
2. Compromise Talks Stalled Over Migrant Detention Space as the Shutdown Deadline Loomed
President Trump repeatedly called for $5.7 billion to be used to construct a border wall during the December-January shutdown. Vice President Mike Pence suggested a compromise in a closed-door meeting with Democrats in December 2018, right before the shutdown began. His offer was $2.5 billion to be used for security and new fencing. The president dismissed that idea at the time and it did not gain traction.
But President Trump seemed to soften to the idea of a compromise as the February 15 deadline approached. According to the New York Times, the bipartisan committee was optimistic about reaching a deal by Monday, February 11. But the compromise talks abruptly halted on February 10 over a disagreement about how many people ICE could hold at any one time. Democrats wanted to implement a cap on the number of undocumented immigrants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can detain per day, with the goal of pushing officials to focus on detaining people convicted or accused of committing crimes. Right now, congressional funding pays for about 49,000 beds. Democrats wanted to limit the total number of beds to 35,000 and limit the number of beds for undocumented immigrants apprehended in the United States to 16,500. The White House wanted an additional $4.2 billion to increase detention space to include 52,000 beds. (Ultimately, the Democrats relented on their demand).
Senator Patrick J. Leahy had told the Times on February 8 that the compromise deal was just about done. But by February 10, Senator Richard Shelby told Fox News Sunday that the odds of reaching a deal by the deadline were just 50/50 but said, “we could make a deal with the Democrats if they are willing to meet us halfway.”
In the same interview, Senator Jon Tester acknowledged there were problems but expressed optimism the committee could still reach a solution. “There are bumps on the road but as long as we stay focused in a bipartisan way, bicameral way to get this done, I’m hopeful we can get it done. Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck. It’s happened before. But I don’t think anybody has an appetite for a government shutdown and I think everybody wants to make sure borders are secured.” You can read the entire transcript of that conversation here.
3. President Trump Held Off on Declaring a National Emergency During the Shutdown But Kept it Open as a Possibility
President Trump had repeatedly suggested that he could declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress to secure funding to build a barrier. According to CNN, the White House had prepared a draft that included where the president could get as much as $7 billion for a border wall. The plan reportedly included getting $3.6 billion from military construction funds and $3 billion from the Pentagon’s civil works funds.
The president hinted during the State of the Union address on February 5 that an emergency declaration was potentially on the table. His speech included the following language to describe the southern border and immigration:
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught.
This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well‑being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our Nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally.
Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.”
A national emergency was expected to trigger a court challenge from Democrats, which would further delay any construction. Congressional Republicans had urged caution on this front, arguing that it could set an uncertain precedent. Senator Marco Rubio told CNBC in January that the next Democratic president could decide to declare a national emergency in order to deal with climate change.
Senator Chuck Grassley also said in January, “I think it’s a bad precedent and it contravenes the power of the purse that comes from the elected representatives of the people.”
Senator John Thune, the Majority Whip, was quoted by the Times before the State of the Union that he doesn’t believe President Trump would use emergency powers because he is aware that just four Republican votes in the Senate would be enough to overturn such a measure.
Senator Lindsey Graham, on the other hand, has publicly stated that he believed President Trump would declare a national emergency, as well as sign a border security deal, in order to secure funds for the wall.
4. Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Didn’t Want the President to Bypass Congress; Just 20 Percent Supported Shutting Down the Government Again if a Border Security Deal Was Not Reached
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans did not want the president to go around Congress, even those who support building a wall. A Monmouth University poll released on January 28 found that 44 percent of voters support a wall, while 52 percent oppose it. Those opinions are sharply divided along party lines; 86 percent of Republicans, 42 percent of independents, and 12 percent of Democrats support the construction of a wall.
34 percent of Americans said they would support President Trump using his authority to declare a national emergency. But 64 percent oppose this type of action, preferring for the Trump administration and Congress to reach a legislative deal.
The vast majority of Americans do not want the government to shut down again. The poll found that just 20 percent of those surveyed would support having another shutdown if a deal is not reached by February 15. 48 percent said lawmakers should just fund the rest of the government without a deal. 26 percent said Congress should pass another temporary clean resolution and keep negotiating.
When divided along party lines, 40 percent of Republicans surveyed said they’d support another government shutdown if the bipartisan committee cannot reach a border security compromise that the president would sign. By comparison, 23 percent of Independents agree with that and just 3 percent of Democrats.
5. The Border Security Debate Went Viral in Mid-December 2018 When President Trump Said On-Camera That He Was ‘Proud’ to Shut Down the Government For Border Security
The gridlock over border security and funding for a southern barrier played out in real-time during an argument in the Oval Office on December 11, 2018. President Trump went back and forth Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Vice President Pence was also there but did not say anything on-camera.
This happened more than a week before the government shut down on December 22. The group was supposed to negotiate behind closed doors, but ending up having an extended debate in front of the press pool. Toward the end of the argument, President Trump turned to Senator Schumer and declared, “If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through the military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government. And I am proud. I’ll tell you what. I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down. I’m going to shut it down for border security.” Senator Schumer smiled as he responded, “But we believe you shouldn’t shut it down.”
The dispute also led to the delay of the State of the Union address. It had originally been scheduled for January 29, 2019, but Speaker Pelosi suggested it be postponed until after the government was reopened. That triggered a contentious exchange between the speaker and the president, which ultimately resulted in the address taking place on February 5.
READ NEXT: Can Congress Block a National Emergency?