File Photo: A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands in front of the border fence that divides the U.S. and Mexico in San Diego, California, the United States, Nov. 17, 2018. (Xinhua/Zhao Hanrong)
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- U.S. bipartisan negotiations over funding a border wall with Mexico have hit a new hurdle only days before the deadline of a renewed partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government falls on Friday.
Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers at Camp David, the presidential retreat in northern Maryland, over the weekend so that Democrats and Republicans could seize the time to resolve the long-running divergence.
"I think the talks are stalled right now," Richard Shelby, the Senate's top Republican negotiator, said on "Fox News Sunday."
The Alabama senator put the chance of a deal at "50-50," warning that "the specter of a shutdown is always out there."
Democrats said Saturday they wanted to reduce the number of beds that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to detain immigrants from 38,000 to 16,000, according to an administration official, cited by The Hill.
A House Democratic aide told the newspaper that the proposal would "force the Trump administration to prioritize arresting and deporting serious criminals, not law-abiding immigrants."
U.S. President Donald Trump accused Democratic negotiators of "behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally" in a tweet Sunday.
"Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall... but they don't even want to take muderers (sic) into custody! What's going on?" he said.
Mulvaney admitted Sunday that a shutdown is still on the table, while accusing Democrats of not presenting a consistent offer.
File Photo: People hold placards during a rally to protest against the partial government shutdown at Federal Plaza in Chicago, the United States, on Jan. 18, 2019. Dozens of federal employees and activists gathered here to protest against the ongoing partial government shutdown, which is now the longest in U.S. history. (Xinhua/Wang Ping)
"Is a shutdown entirely off the table? The answer is no," Mulvaney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"I've heard that there may be a deal with as much as 2.1 or 2.5 billion U.S. dollars for a border fence, then I hear there may be 0 dollars or as little as 800 million dollars for the border fence," he said.
Trump has requested 5.7 billion U.S. dollars for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a plank of his 2016 presidential campaign, which he has argued is essential to beefing up border security and curbing crime.
Democrats have rejected the idea of a border wall, slamming it as expensive, ineffective and "immoral," and called the proposal Trump's "political theater" to fire up his base, while they prefer the use of technology like drones and sensors in strengthening border security.
The lack of agreement between the White House and Congressional Democrats over whether to fund the border wall had caused a historic 35-day partial government shutdown, which ended in late January.
Trump agreed to fund the government for three weeks to allow for negotiations.
Senator Jon Tester, a leading Democratic negotiator, insisted the back-and-forth was part of the negotiation process.
"Negotiations seldom go smooth all the way through. It's give and take, it's compromise," the Montana senator said on "Fox News Sunday."
He also said he is "hopeful" the negotiators on the 17-member committee can come to an agreement.
Senator Chris Murphy said his Democratic colleagues are not in favor of giving Trump more than 2 billion dollars for border barriers in 2019.
"The problem now is that we've only got about 7 months left on the fiscal year. So I don't think the president can actually spend much more than two billion dollars," he said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."
"But of course we're willing to compromise, of course we're willing to put more money into border security. I'll be interested to see what the compromise looks like before I commit to voting for or against it," the Connecticut senator added.
The White House, meanwhile, is reviewing back-up plans for funding Trump's desired border wall.
Mulvaney said the president is likely to reprogram federal money with whatever money Congress appropriates, or has already appropriated.
"We'll take as much money as you can give us and then we'll go off and find the money someplace else, legally, in order to secure that southern barrier, but this is going to get built with or without Congress," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
The acting chief of staff also said Trump reserves the right to declare a national emergency if he needs extra resources.
Such a declaration would enable Trump to bypass congressional approval and redirect funds already allocated by Congress for other purposes to the border wall, but is set to draw political backlash and court challenges and risks GOP unity.