US lawmakers reach tentative deal on wall, shutdown

AFP, EL PASO, Texas

Wed, Feb 13, 2019 - Page 1

US lawmakers late on Monday announced an agreement in principle to avoid another government shutdown, with nearly US$1.4 billion in money for construction of a wall on the border with Mexico, as US President Donald Trump pushed his political crusade at a rally in the frontier city of El Paso, Texas.

That amount is far less than Trump has demanded, but if accepted, the deal would avert another chaotic standoff in which Trump has threatened to cut swathes from government agency budgets on Friday.

US Senator Richard Shelby, a key Republican negotiator, told reporters that an agreement in principle had been reached between US Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Senior congressional aides said the agreement included US$1.375 billion in funding for the US-Mexico border wall — a key campaign promise of Trump, who had demanded US$5.7 billion for his pet project.

The agreed figure would fund about 89km, all to be located in the Rio Grande Valley area of southern Texas, the aides said.

The deal still faces White House approval.

The news dropped just as Trump was about to climb onto the stage in an El Paso arena and the president, addressing a raucous crowd, said he did not have enough details to respond.

“We need the wall and it has to be built — and we want to build it fast,” he said.

There was a counter message a short distance from where Trump spoke when rising Democratic star Beto O’Rourke — a possible challenger in 2020 — held his own rally.

A former representative who in November last year excited grassroots Democrats with an against-the-odds near upset of US Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke is from El Paso.

“Tonight, we will meet lies and hate with the truth and a positive, inclusive, ambitious vision for the future from the US-Mexico border,” he said.

Trump dismissed O’Rourke as “a young man who’s got very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name.”

Making fun of what he said was O’Rourke’s much smaller crowd, Trump said: “That may be the end of his presidential bid.”