The appetite for another government shutdown in 16 days is pretty near nonexistent on Capitol Hill, even though Individual 1 continues to bluster in the background that he's perfectly willing to do it all over again. Against those competing pressures (and the whole of the 2020 American electorate watching), congressional negotiators begin formal conference meetings Wednesday to hammer out border security funding.
All of the members of the conference committee are appropriators, which suggests that they will be looking not at making grand bargains on the larger question of immigration—just at the money and not at things like changing asylum laws or establishing a path to citizenship for Dreamers. That narrows things significantly to the key elements: barriers or other security, immigration judges, facilities for asylum-seekers crossing the border.
Leadership is setting expectations. Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the starting point clear: "Have I not been clear on a wall?" House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California played with semantics: "It could be a barrier, it doesn't have to be a wall." Pelosi deputy Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (New York), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, countered with, "We support additional investment in infrastructure, particularly as it relates to our legal ports of entry." One of the conferees spoke to where Democrats are looking for that money to be spent: "I will keep fighting for humane immigration policies that secure our borders, hold our agencies accountable for mistreatment of migrants, keep families together, end child detention, reduce the number of detention beds," said Democratic California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard.
There has been bipartisan agreement twice before on border security, including $1.6 billion for border security that included some border fencing. That amount was included in the Omnibus funding bill passed in 2017, and that amount was agreed-upon again by bipartisan negotiators in the Senate in 2018 in the spending bill that didn't get finally passed by Congress because it was being used as bait during the election. That's the baseline for these negotiations.
What happens next depends in large part on whether the Senate majority leader lays down the law with Trump.