WASHINGTON – A deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks easily cleared Congress on Friday after President Donald Trump announced he would back the agreement even though it doesn’t include his demand for billions of dollars in border wall funding.
The House and the Senate approved the measure on a voice vote and sent it to Trump, who is expected to sign the bill into law, ending a 35-day government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history.
“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump announced a few hours earlier during a hastily arranged address in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump’s decision to back the deal came amid mounting pressure from members of Congress to end the impasse and in the face of public opinion polls showing that most Americans blamed him and Republicans for the shutdown.
Pressure to reopen the government intensified on Friday as airports along the East Coast reported delays because of a lack of air traffic controllers.
A day earlier, competing measures to reopen the government failed in the Senate, setting off a flurry of negotiations and injecting a sense of urgency into the talks that had been missing since nine federal departments closed last month. The idea of a short-term measure to reopen the government for three weeks emerged as part of those discussions.
In his remarks announcing the agreement, Trump sought to declare victory. But the deal contains no new money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – one of his key demands for reopening the government and one of the signature promises of his 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats flatly refused to negotiate on border wall funding until the government reopens.
“This was in no way a concession,” Trump insisted in a tweet late Friday. “It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”
The deal, hammered out during talks with congressional leaders, would reopen the government through Feb. 15. The fight over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding will be resolved during further negotiations by a bipartisan congressional conference committee, which will spend the next three weeks looking for ways to secure the border.
“The wall should not be controversial,” Trump insisted on Friday.
But Trump warned that if he doesn’t get “a fair deal” from Congress, either the government will shut down again on Feb. 15 or he will use “the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution” to declare a national emergency to find money for his proposed wall.
On Capitol Hill, the deal to reopen the government was met with relief among most lawmakers, who faced growing public frustration as the standoff neared its sixth week.
“I know the pain this episode has caused,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who encouraged Democrats to “stop playing partisan games and get serious about negotiating with the president on a long-term compromise.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., bragged on the Senate floor that Trump had caved since Democrats had refused to discuss funding for the wall while the government was shut down.
“This agreement endorses that position,” Schumer said. “It reopens the government without preconditions.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said disagreements over public policy “should never be a reason to shut down the government.”
“I’m sad it has taken this long,” she said, but “I’m glad we’ve come to a conclusion.”
While the deal will allow for more talks on border security, Pelosi appeared unlikely to budge from her opposition to funding for a border wall.
“Have I not been clear on a wall?” she asked reporters. “No, I’ve been very clear on the wall.”
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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a conservative who played a critical role in the president’s decision to shut down the government, backed Trump’s decision to support the deal and said it would put pressure on Democrats to help secure the border.
“Democrats now have yet another opportunity to come to the table and negotiate, where all Americans will be able to judge for themselves whether they’re truly serious about securing our border,” Meadows said in a statement.
Other Republicans were discouraged that Trump agreed to the deal, and some even accused him of giving in to the Democrats’ demands.
“Trump’s base will not look kindly on this cave, even if Trump’s hand was forced,” said Texas-based political consultant Matt Mackowiak. “Democrats were never going to negotiate while the government was closed and they paid no price for doing so.”
He added: “The only advantage the Trump White House has is a three-week clock on the negotiation for a broader deal. In the end, many will look at this entire episode as pointless.”
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, whose attacks on an earlier agreement to end the shutdown led Trump to oppose it, offered a blistering critique of the new deal – and Trump – on Twitter.
“Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States,” she wrote.
Nine federal departments and several smaller agencies – all representing a quarter of the federal government – were forced to close their doors on Dec. 22 when their funding lapsed because of the budget impasse between Trump and congressional Democrats over border wall funding.
Democrats refused to give Trump the $5.7 billion he was demanding for the barrier, arguing that a wall would be costly, ineffective – and in Pelosi’s words – an “immorality.”
As the standoff stretched for more than a month, the shutdown took its toll across America. Some food-safety inspections were temporarily stopped, trash piled up in national parks, federal landmarks and museums closed and some airports shuttered checkpoints because of fewer Transportation Security Administration officers to screen passengers.
The push to end the shutdown grew more urgent on Friday after the FAA halted flights coming into New York’s LaGuardia Airport because of staffing shortage and other delays were reported at airports in Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Also Friday, some 800,000 federal employees who have been on unpaid leave or working without pay missed their second paycheck since the shutdown began.
In his remarks, Trump praised federal workers for their sacrifices during the shutdown and promised he would see that they receive back pay as soon as possible.
Congress already has passed legislation – and Trump has signed it – guaranteeing them back pay. The bill applies not only to workers furloughed during the current shutdown, but mandates that workers furloughed in future shutdowns also get back pay.
The law does not cover federal contractors, who will not get paid unless Congress passes legislation mandating that they also are compensated.
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