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House Democratic leader proposes $5.7bn for border ‘smart wall’

The US Senate has scheduled votes for Thursday on competing proposals that face steep odds to end the shutdown.

FILE: The US Capitol is seen as the federal government is in a partial shutdown. Picture: Pixabay.com.

WASHINGTON - The No. 3 Democrat in the US House of Representatives floated the idea of ending a partial government shutdown by giving President Donald Trump the $5.7 billion (£4.4 billion) he seeks for border security with Mexico but through various means other than a wall.

US House Majority Whip James Clyburn told reporters that Democrats could fulfil Trump’s request for border security with a “smart wall” that includes drones, X-rays, sensors and more border patrol agents.

But Trump has demanded funding for a wall in a showdown with Democrats that has left 800,000 federal workers without pay amid a partial government shutdown that entered its 33rd day on Wednesday.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, also said Democrats would be discussing “substantial sums of additional money” for border security as part of a possible deal.

Clyburn’s offer is a significant monetary increase over bills previously passed by Democrats, which included only about $1.3 billion for this year in additional border security, with none of that for a wall.

“Using the figure the president put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” Clyburn said.

The US Senate has scheduled votes for Thursday on competing proposals that face steep odds to end the shutdown.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on Thursday on a Democratic proposal that would fund the government for three weeks but does not include the $5.7 billion in partial funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Its prospects appeared grim. The House of Representatives has passed several similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include border wall funding. McConnell previously said he would not consider a bill that Trump did not support.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on legislation that would include border wall funding and temporary relief for “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children, a compromise Trump proposed on Saturday.

Democrats have dismissed the deal, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government, and that they would not trade a temporary restoration of the immigrants’ protections from deportation in return for a permanent border wall they view as ineffective.

Trump’s plan is “wrapping paper on the same partisan package,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.

Trump, in a series of morning tweets, pushed fellow Republicans to stand by his promised border wall. He was scheduled to discuss his immigration plan with local leaders and with conservative leaders at the White House.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump also has made calls to Democrats.

Furloughed federal workers are struggling to make ends meet during the longest government shutdown in US history. Many have turned to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support, or have sought new jobs.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found more than half of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown even as he has sought to shift blame to Democrats after initially saying he would be “proud” to shutter the government.

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