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Negotiators Try To Find A Border Deal That Trump Will Accept


Politicians debating President Trump's proposed border wall have spent a lot of time on what to call it. The word used to describe the wall might be key to ending a confrontation over it. Here's NPR's Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar is one of the 17 lawmakers negotiating a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department. Like nearly all Democrats, he maintains President Trump is not going to get his way on the wall.


HENRY CUELLAR: My position is we're not going to do $5.7 billion on a wall. No way. Absolutely no way.

DAVIS: But what if it's not called a wall?


CUELLAR: Well, I'm just saying we can probably get there on some sort of enhanced barriers with local input.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: What does that mean? Enhanced barriers?

DAVIS: Enhanced barriers. That is just one of the many wall euphemisms these lawmakers are using in this cautious dance to clinch a deal. Negotiators are eager to resolve the fight that caused the president to wage the longest partial shutdown in history. And in the capital this week, how the wall is defined is a bit of an obsession because it frames who gets to declare victory. Here's one reporter trying to get Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin to nail down what exactly lawmakers discussed at a secure briefing with border officials.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Sir, what nouns and adjectives did they use to describe the physical barriers that they recommended?

DICK DURBIN: Well, there were a variety of them. They gave us pages of pictures of different things.

DAVIS: Even the negotiators who are the president's allies, like Texas Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger, sound like this when trying to make the administration's case for where a wall is needed along the border.


KAY GRANGER: There's a wall that really could do - I don't call - it's not a wall. It is a barrier. It's really more of a fence.

DAVIS: Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby sounded a little more confident about what he'll call it after the briefing with border officials.


RICHARD SHELBY: They asked them about the steel slats. They said that's what they like.

DAVIS: This all may sound a little silly, but the language could make all the difference. Democrats don't want to cave to President Trump's demand for a, quote, "wall" that they oppose and a majority of Americans do not support. Republicans need to be able to deliver something to the president that he will actually sign into law this time. So part of the deal may be letting everyone call it what they need to. Here's North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven.


JOHN HOEVEN: OK. It's not going to be one-size-fits-all. It's a border barrier where you work with the locals and get something that works. I hope that helps us bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats to get to a good solution here.

DAVIS: Negotiators say they think they can reach a deal, but probably not until next week. The deadline is Friday. Here's Shelby again.


SHELBY: I hope that we will do our job. Will we? That's the question of the hour.

DAVIS: President Trump says if Congress doesn't send him a bill he considers fair, he's willing to shut down the government again or declare a national emergency to build a wall without them. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.