STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday announced a deal to temporarily end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, capitulating — for now — on his demand for billions of taxpayer dollars to build a southern border wall.
A day after the Senate defeated competing proposals to reopen the government and as the financial pain from the shutdown spread across the nation, Trump said Friday it was time to end a standoff he had defended only a day earlier.
The deal — which largely mirrors what Democrats have been suggesting — includes a three-week extension of government funding through Feb. 15 and an agreement to continue negotiations on border security, including the debate over the wall.
But after relenting on his earlier demand, Trump will have little leverage in the coming weeks to change the minds of congressional Democrats about wall funding. And neither party is likely to be willing to enter another unpopular shutdown over the issue.
“There have been plenty of opportunities, supported by both sides of the aisle, to fund or reopen the government,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas. “President Trump has made it clear that this was never about keeping Americans safe, but keeping a campaign promise.”
White House officials maintained privately that they remain optimistic that wall funding will be provided in a final compromise agreement. Some Democrats in recent days have suggested that a “physical barrier” could be part of a border security package.
And Trump said that if Congress does not authorize wall funding, he will pursue other options, including possibly declaring a national emergency. The administration has said such a declaration would allow him to divert other government funds for wall construction by the military. Democrats and legal experts have questioned whether the president has that authority.
Under Friday’s agreement, federal workers will receive back pay for the time they were furloughed. “I will make sure all employees receive their back pay very quickly — or as soon as possible,” Trump said during a White House Rose Garden appearance.
Trump instigated the shutdown, which began Dec. 22, by refusing to sign must-pass government spending bills unless he received $5.7 billion for a wall.
The break in the stalemate came as three major East Coast airports reported slowdowns Friday due to unpaid air traffic controllers calling in sick.
More than 800,000 federal workers were due to miss their second paycheck since the shutdown began.
Most public opinion polls increasingly put the blame for the shutdown squarely on Trump, who boasted before it began that he would happily accept full responsibility because he believed building a wall was vital to protecting the U.S.-Mexico border. It was also one of his biggest campaign promises, though he said Mexico would pay for the wall.
Democrats accused Trump of holding the government “hostage” and said border security can be enhanced without a wall.
According to a senior administration official, word rippled through the White House complex Friday morning that “something was shaking.”
The realization that it was time to reopen the government, despite not having achieved any of the president’s desired funding for a border wall, came as the result of new pressures as the shutdown’s impact became more deeply felt.
“Friday is payday,” said the official, who also pointed to the delays at major airports and similar issues at the IRS, where employees assigned to process refund checks were not reporting for work.
Trump’s about-face came just a day after the White House said that any temporary funding measure must also come with a “large down payment” on the wall.
Democrats say Trump ultimately settled for the same terms he could have had a month ago.
“Let one thing be clear: Democrats continue to support strong, smart, and effective border security solutions instead of wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective wall,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, of Laredo. “I will continue to work with my colleagues from both sides to reach a long-term bipartisan compromise.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who earlier had tried to distance himself from the shutdown and the talks to end it, praised the deal. “We’ve had a good outcome on a bipartisan basis,” he said.
Republicans said Trump’s concession reflected his concern for Americans.
“This is a good-faith gesture by the president to say that he’s interested in actually getting this done, that he recognizes the hardship this has been on people,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
But other conservatives attacked Trump, saying he had given up the fight with nothing to show for his effort. Commentator Ann Coulter said in a tweet that former President George H.W. Bush is “no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president of the United States.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans were hopeful they would get something out of the record-long government closure —”some modicum of border security that the president campaigned on — one of the centerpiece items of his campaign,” said Sen. Mike Braun, a newly elected Republican from Indiana.
Serious negotiations to end the shutdown began Thursday afternoon, shortly after the Senate voted down the two partisan bills.
McConnell met with Schumer after the votes.
The majority leader first offered a short-term funding bill in exchange for some border wall money, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the talks. Schumer said Democrats would not support wall funding, and he countered with a short-term spending bill and a plan to discuss border security in a Senate-House conference. Pelosi also agreed to the approach, the aide said.
McConnell said he would take the agreement to the president.
The deal includes “prioritizing” negotiations over the Department of Homeland Security spending bill, which includes funding for border security. A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers will be put together to try to hash out a deal.
The Senate passed the bill Friday afternoon and the House was expected to follow shortly after, sending it to Trump for his signature.
There is no assurance that the deal won’t result in another government shutdown when the new funding measure expires, a point that worries some lawmakers.
“We just have to operate in good faith,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Pelosi said Friday that the president’s State of the Union address, which was set for Jan. 29 but postponed until the shutdown ended, would now be rescheduled.