There are two main themes: the clock (and an unofficial end-of-week deadline for an agreement), and the policy for which the primary ideological and political differences have still not been smoothed out.
Reality is the most difficult issue – and there are more than one – are not yet mature, so approach optimism with the right perspective. But proposals have been exchanged by both parties, sources tell me, and furthermore only at the staff level. It is clear that there is a legitimate attempt to find a way to a deal – and negotiators in both parties said Tuesday that they had left their initial positions on the financing of the border barrier.
No one, at least at this moment, can answer the most important question: will they get there? But things are in a better place than they have been in a long time, say multiple sources involved in the process.
Optimism came before President Donald Trump's speech on the State of the Union and his comments on immigration, which were received rather badly by the Democrats in the Chamber. It makes no sense now, from assistants involved in the negotiations, that this will have a broader effect on the conference committee, but expects the Democrats to express their dissatisfaction on Wednesday.
What to read
What to watch
House Democratic Caucus meeting closed door, 9 am ET.
Briefing with closed doors about border security for conference attendees, 10 am
House Democratic Caucus Press Conference, 10:15 a.m.
House Republican leadership news conference, 11 o'clock in the morning
One positive, as a small sign
Members of the conference committee are expected to attend a closed briefing of border officials for career protection at a given time on Wednesday. The closed character of the meeting – and the fact that it was originally proposed as a briefing carried out by career officers, rather than by political agents – was seen by some as a positive signal from the republicans.
A good reality check
There is still a finite amount of time left to reach a deal – Thursday evening or Friday morning is the timeline that Capitol Hill is working on the most, say lawmakers, who at best could slip away for a day or two and still stay in both rooms give time to conclude a final agreement.
But it is worth remembering that the gap is not exclusive to Trump's funding request on the wall. There are also sharp differences of opinion about the types and levels of increased border personnel and issues such as the number of detention beds available to undocumented immigrants detained at the border. There are also grim dividing lines about these issues – division that is not less divided within the respective parties.
A second good reality check
The timeline is tight, no question. But in Congress – even in the Senate – it can be very fast when an agreement is reached. Or, as Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it to the reporters on Tuesday: "If you reach an agreement, things will happen soon and we hope they can do that and the president says he is ready to sign the bill."
The Trump card
Republican lawmakers and staff, to a person, recognize a reality that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago: they go forward without knowing what Trump would support or sign. In the words of McConnell, who for weeks held on to the position that nothing would happen in the senate without the resignation of the president: "I think we do not know what his opinion on this is, but I think the conference participants are reaching an agreement and then we hope the president will find it worth signing. "
While the White House has been kept abreast of current discussions – Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has spoken with many of the conference attendees, say sources – and vice president Mike Pence and the legislative team get regular updates, the administration has no figures or language of itself, two sources that are familiar with the conversations tell me.
It is to a certain extent exactly what the legislators have asked on both sides: for the president to stay out of things and let the negotiators do their will. But that cuts both ways: it creates the very real possibility that negotiators reach an agreement that the president rejects.
What Trump said in the SOTU
Trump quoted in his State of the Union speech his proposal to Congress that included $ 5.7 billion in border wall financing, and described the wall as "a smart, strategic, transparent steel barrier – not just a simple concrete wall. deployed in the areas designated by border agents as the greatest need. "
Note that this proposal in the Senate 50-47 has not been implemented. Sixty votes were needed to advance the proposal. Apart from the policy, immigration was a sharp reflection of the position – and the tone – that the president spent years on the southern border. Anyone looking for a big gesture (or even the smallest twig of an olive branch) on the matter, well, this was not the speech for that on immigration.
What the Democrats did not appreciate
Comment from speaker Nancy Pelosi on Trump border security and wall section of the state of the Union:
"Instead of frightening and causing a crisis at the border, President Trump should commit to signing the bill of the two-party conference to keep the government open and provide strong, smart solutions for border security."
Parsing the formulation
Aides on Capitol Hill have made it clear that they saw no part of the President's remarks as a step towards a compromise, but several pointed out that strategic deployment, on the recommendation of border agents, could possibly be linked to the democratic position that security measures must be evidence-based and recommended by professionals working at the border.
That said, how both sides would define "strategically" is both unknown and central to every agreement. And the tone of the president of a steel barrier is, on his face, something that the democrats would not accept, assists assistants in the talks. Nor is the central focus on a wall itself, as the president once again made clear his position: "Simply put: walls work and walls save lives," he said Tuesday.
A democratic view
A high democratic assistant simply responded: "Oh, come on", when I asked if anything in the president's speech gave any movement towards a possible deal. The point, said the assistant, was this: one of the biggest complaints from Democrats is that there is little understanding of what the president would accept when it comes to a compromise on a border crossing.
"It is all atmospheric, and let's be honest, the words are hardly ever applicable at the moment," said the assistant. "Do the actions."
Lay the foundation
In line with the consistent reporting from the Trump administration of recent weeks – reports that many described at Capitol Hill's position as the basis for a possible national emergency declaration – the president referred to illegal immigration at the southern border as an "urgent national crisis" . That said, there was no mention of a national emergency statement in the President's comments. Just a call to work together, make compromises and make a deal that really makes America safe & # 39 ;.
About a national emergency
The Republican Senate's concern about Trump declaring a national emergency as a way to finance the border wall has become a common theme, but the size of the jam that such a movement could do to the party may be less – and underlines why the Republicans are so on their guard.
McConnell garnered a number of headlines because he refused to explain how he would vote about an attempt to block such a statement by saying, "I will not judge until we see what he is doing."
But McConnell's general opposition to the idea is no secret – he has said so much publicly. The real problem now – one that has been passed on to the White House and directly to the president – is the precarious situation where a statement would likely place its conference in the weeks that followed.
Republican citizens have expressed concern about the ideological movement, on constitutional grounds and on precedent-setting grounds. Those Republicans, if confronted with a negative decision, would be forced to vote for something they seem to oppose and keep to the President about his central policy issue or to vote against him.
"We have not had the procedure before because the national emergencies that have been issued in the past are not controversial, I'm pretty sure it would be," McConnell said with a grin. "It's a fairly fast process, with a simple majority in the Senate, so everything I've discussed with the administration is just the process."
The process, if necessary
McConnell makes a point here that it is worth keeping in mind: this is not something that the Senate has been confronted with before, so there is not always a hard and fast step-by-step plan for what would happen, but the topline process is explained in the law (see: 50 US Code § 1622).
In short, if the president leaves the trigger for a national emergency declaration to finance the border wall, House Democrats can quickly take a negative decision to block the statement. Since the Democrats have the majority, their passage is almost certain.
Then it would pass to the Senate, where there is simply no viable way to prevent the resolution from coming to the ground. According to the law, the senate would have 15 days to discuss the resolution in the committee, and another three before it would reach the floor (although it could be moved to the ground earlier). The resolution would be privileged and subject to a simple majority threshold.
That is a voice – and a broader issue – the Republicans have made it crystal clear that they would like to avoid it. Trump has now made it clear that the option will remain on the table if no agreement is reached on legislation to finance its border wall.
This of course does not even explain the fact that the Democrats have made it clear that they would take every national emergency declaration to court as soon as one was made.
As an assistant of a high GOP said to me: "At a certain moment something must be given very quickly. Let's hope that it is a kind of agreement with a conference committee."