After a bipartisan panel of lawmakers gathered to begin crafting a deal around border security on Wednesday, Sen. Jon Tester walked away from Day One negotiations feeling optimistic.
Wednesday’s talks come a week after Congress reached a short-term deal to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. But the clock is ticking.
President Donald Trump has given Congress until Feb. 15 to craft legislation he will support. If it doesn’t, Trump said, he will either close the government again or declare a national emergency.
“I think it’s clear by now that bipartisanship in Washington is rare —but it isn’t dead,” Tester said. “We’ve got a group here today that has a real shot at coming together to write a bill to send to the president that secures our borders, addresses our humanitarian crisis, and funds our government.”
On a conference call with Montana media earlier this week, Tester said any successful legislation would likely include an all-of-the-above approach.
He reiterated that philosophy during Wednesday’s hearing, saying technology, security and humanitarian aid must all be part of the solution – and at a reasonable cost.
“A balanced approach to border security should be a roadmap,” Tester said. “Many of the measures we funded in the Senate bill can serve as a starting point as we work together to craft a deal we can all agree on.”
Over in the House, Rep. Greg Gianforte urged members of its border security conference committee to “fund meaningful physical barriers.”
Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a wall and Gianforte has supported the president’s proposal.
“We must give border patrol agents the tools they need to get the job done,” Gianforte said. “They told me they need more equipment to detect drugs and better body armor. Border patrol agents also told me they need a wall. They know walls work. Congress should listen to them.”
Even the Republican members of the conference committee said Wednesday a wall should only be part of a broader border security agreement.
Both Sen. Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Texas Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, called for fences or walls at strategic spots on the border that see the most crossings.
They said these barriers should also be combined with technological methods for policing the expansive border with Mexico.
The Republican leaders on the committee also said the final agreement should include money for more border patrol agents and other staff. Both sides agreed Congress should allow the administration to hire more immigration judges to clear the backlog of cases.
Trump showed in a tweet Wednesday that his stance on border wall money being an essential element of any government funding package has not softened, writing that the conference members are “wasting their time” if they are not considering a “wall or physical barrier” as part of their negotiations.