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Despite border funding compromise, McCarthy backs Trump on declaring an emergency

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to KBAK from Capitol Hill on Feb. 13, 2019. (KBAK)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday he would have preferred that a compromise on border security funding provide the whole $5.7 billion for border wall construction President Donald Trump demanded, but he may support the legislation anyway depending on the final language.

“I want to make sure the language is right, that it gives the president a down payment, that we have a secure border,” McCarthy said in an interview with KBAK.

The compromise worked out by a bipartisan committee is expected to appropriate $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new bollard fencing while providing additional funds for technology and other security measures. Lawmakers aimed to nail down last-minute details Wednesday so the bill can be passed and signed by the president before midnight Friday to avoid another partial government shutdown.

President Trump has indicated he is not entirely happy with the agreement, but he is also waiting to review the final text before deciding to support it.

“I would rather have more,” McCarthy acknowledged, but he added, “I know I’m in a government system where you have to find compromise.”

The minority leader made clear that he would support President Trump in declaring a national emergency over border security to obtain the rest of the money needed to build the border wall he promised during his campaign. Trump has often threatened to do that throughout budget negotiations over the last two months, but the move is certain to face lengthy legal challenges.

“If we have structure in the legislation right and with the 1.4, it allows the president to be able to do an emergency declaration to use other money to finish the job,” McCarthy said.

On Wednesday morning, McCarthy attended an event with so-called Angel Mothers and Fathers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants, as he put it, “because the federal government has not done its job protecting the border.” He said the event underscored the importance of ensuring the border is secure.

While $1.4 billion for border barriers is far less than the president or McCarthy wants, the minority leader argued the deal required significant concessions from Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as well.

“Just a few weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi said only one dollar for the wall,” he said. “We got 1.4 billion. But the president also has some more tools in the toolbox where he can grab other money, make sure the wall is totally finished. We want to make sure we have enough beds so criminals are not released into society, and we want to make sure ICE is funded. These are three things Democrats did not want to see happen and I believe we were able to secure that.”

Democrats had sought a cap on the number of detention beds available to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, but Trump and Republican negotiators objected. Some on the left have called for ICE to be abolished or defunded, but Democratic negotiators in the conference committee never put that on the table.

Despite disappointment from some of her more progressive members, Pelosi seemed satisfied with the agreement Wednesday, telling reporters she was confident Congress would pass the bill.

“We have to. We have to. I think we’re in a pretty good place,” she said.

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