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Bipartisan Border Security Talks Stall Over A Demand From The Democrats


Bipartisan negotiators have reached what they are calling an agreement in principle on a border security spending bill. The announcement came after a weekend where it seemed all was lost. Democrats and Republicans had walked away from the negotiations. But by Monday night, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced that they had a deal that would satisfy everybody at least a little bit.


PATRICK LEAHY: Not a single one of us is going to get every single thing we want. But nobody does. But we're going to get what is best for the United States.

CORNISH: The final details of the agreement have not yet been released. But negotiators say they believe Congress can finish their work and pass the legislation in time to avoid another government shutdown at the end of this week. NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us now from the Capitol. Hey there, Kelsey.


CORNISH: So that was the voice of Senator Patrick Leahy. Can you talk about what's in this deal?

SNELL: Well, we don't know a whole lot about it. We do know that it - this was negotiated by spending experts in Congress. Leahy worked with Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, who read - led things for Republicans. And House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey led things for Democrats. And now, they said they'll let us know the details when the bill is final. But they said that it will include the seven bills that expired during the last shutdown. So if this all comes together, we wouldn't have to worry about that happening again.

And they said that, you know, they're working out issues like the physical barrier along the border that the president has called for and the issue of detention beds, which were that - which was that hot issue that seemed to end the negotiations over the weekend. Democrats were really worried about additional funding for detention beds at immigration centers that already exist. They wanted to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement from being able to expand the number of people that they put in detention. So we don't know exactly how that all balanced out. What we do know is that it won't include disaster relief, which was something they had hoped to get involved. But they promise that will be handled separately.

CORNISH: Right. They're saying this was an agreement in principle. It was worked out behind closed doors with a relatively small group of negotiators. What do we know about whether or not the White House is onboard?

SNELL: Yeah, that is something that we reporters were asking negotiators when they came out and announced the deal. They said that they had been in touch with the White House. And we asked Shelby specifically if the White House is onboard. And here's what he had to say.

RICHARD SHELBY: We think so. We hope so.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What makes you - but what makes you think so?

SHELBY: Well, I - we haven't put all the particulars together yet. But we believe from our dealings with him and the latitude they've given us they will support it. We certainly hope so.

SNELL: Now, Shelby also said that he believes that the leadership in Congress is onboard because, well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Shelby to get a deal done. And that's what he has done.

CORNISH: Now that this framework is done, how quickly could Congress actually pass it?

SNELL: They tell us that they can get this done pretty quickly, which, you know, Congress has shown in the past that they can do. They take a long time to get a deal together. And then when they need to, they can rush things through. And what we're told is that they hope to have the bill text and all of the details out as early as tomorrow. The staff is supposed to work all night to make sure that that happens. And then once it's out, it'll give lawmakers a little bit of time to review things.

Now, it's really interesting that leaders had been preparing for this for some time. And we understand that they could actually go through the process of getting things through with the House floor and the Senate floor in just a matter of a couple of days.

But again, it all comes back to what President Trump is going to do and what he's going to say. And so far we don't know. All we know is that the staff has been in touch with the White House staff. And we will await to hear what the president says once he sees the details of this bill.

CORNISH: And in the meantime, I guess now the work of counting the vote is going to happen, right?

SNELL: Yeah, the vote counting will absolutely start as soon as the details are released. And we're hoping that that staff - or if that continues overnight - goes quickly.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.