Yielding to pressure amid disruption, Trump agrees to reopen government for 3 weeks
photo by: Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Submitting to mounting pressure and growing disruption, President Donald Trump agreed to a deal Friday to reopen the government for three weeks, backing down from his demand that Congress give him money for his border wall before federal agencies get back to work.
Standing alone in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would sign legislation funding shuttered agencies until Feb. 15 and try again to persuade lawmakers to finance his long-sought wall. The deal he reached with congressional leaders contains no new money for the wall.
Trump’s retreat came in the 35th day of the partial shutdown as intensifying delays at the nation’s airports and a missed payday for hundreds of thousands of federal workers brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff.
Trump still made the case for a border wall and maintained he might again shut down the government over it. Whatever negotiations restart next, Trump enters them from a weakened position. Recent polls found Trump bore the blame for the shutdown.
“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said. He has been considering declaring a national emergency in order to fund the border wall unilaterally, a move that would almost certainly face legal hurdles.
He said a bipartisan committee of lawmakers would be formed to consider border spending before the new deadline.
“They are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first,” Trump said. He asserted that “barrier or walls will be an important part of the solution.”
Congress was expected to vote on the plan swiftly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will pass legislation on Friday and he hopes there will be “good-faith negotiations over the next three weeks to try to resolve our differences” on border security.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats oppose the wall money but agree on other ways to secure the border “and that bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement.” The House also was expected to vote Friday to approve the deal.
Within the White House there was broad recognition among Trump’s aides Friday that the shutdown pressure was growing and they couldn’t keep the standoff going indefinitely. The president’s approval numbers had suffered during the impasse, and Republicans were openly calling on him to back down from his demands and reopen the government.
Still, some thought Trump had to see the results of votes a day earlier –and understand that the proposal he offered before that could not advance– before he was willing to make a move. But by Thursday, he was coming around on a short term fix, said a person familiar with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. White House and congressional leaders hashed out the terms Friday, though many were not sure Trump would commit to the plan until the final moments.
Overnight and into Friday, at least five Republican senators had been calling Trump, urging him to reopen the government and have the Senate consider his request for border wall money through regular legislation, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss the private talks publicly.
The breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs Friday due to the shutdown. And the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — was experiencing long security wait times, a warning sign the week before it expects 150,000 out-of-town visitors for the Super Bowl.
Trump and the Democrats in Congress had remained at odds over his demand that any compromise include money for his coveted border wall.
The standoff became so severe that, as the Senate opened with prayer, Chaplain Barry Black called on high powers in the “hour of national turmoil” to help senators do “what is right.”
Senators were talking with increased urgency after Thursday’s defeat of competing proposals from Trump and the Democrats. The bipartisan talks provided a glimmer of hope that some agreement could be reached to halt the longest-ever closure of federal agencies, at least temporarily.
Pressure has been building among both parties to reopen agencies immediately and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers while bargainers hunt for a deal.
Monday is the start of federal tax filing season. But fewer than half of the furloughed IRS employees recalled during the shutdown to handle tax returns and send out refunds reported for work as of Tuesday, according to congressional and government aides. The employees had been told to work without pay.
At the White House Thursday, Trump told reporters he’d support “a reasonable agreement” to reopen the government. He suggested he’d also want a “prorated down payment” for his long-sought border wall with Mexico but didn’t describe the term. He said he has “other alternatives” for getting wall money, an apparent reference to his disputed claim that he could declare a national emergency and fund the wall’s construction using other programs in the federal budget.
Contributing to the pressure on lawmakers to find a solution was the harsh reality confronting 800,000 federal workers, who on Friday faced a second two-week payday with no paychecks.
A Democratic proposal to end the shutdown got two more votes in the Senate on Thursday than a GOP plan, even though Republicans control the chamber 53-47. Six Republicans backed the Democratic plan, including freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who’s clashed periodically with the president.
The Senate first rejected a Republican plan reopening the government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.
Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to government workers who are either working without pay or being forced to stay home.
Throughout, the two sides issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump has refused to reopen government until Congress gives him the wall money, and congressional Democrats have rejected bargaining until he reopens government.