WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bill on Friday to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history just hours after President Donald Trump announced he would support an agreement that does not include border wall funding.
The measure, which the Senate approved on a voice vote, now goes to the House, which also is expected to approve it Friday.
“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said during a hastily arranged address in the White House Rose Garden,
Trump’s decision to back the deal came on the 35th day of the shutdown and amid mounting pressure from members of Congress to end the impasse. That pressure only built Friday as airports along the East Coast reported delays due to a lack of air traffic controllers.
The deal, hammered out during negotiations with congressional leaders, would reopen the government for three weeks and does not include money for Trump’s proposed border wall. Democrats have flatly rejected funding for the wall until the government reopens.
Trump hinted at the possibility, once again, of declaring a national emergency to find money for his proposed border wall if Congress does not reach an agreement on that issue.
“I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time,” Trump said.
Competing measures to reopen the government failed in the Senate on Thursday, 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, Trump sought to declare victory, but he still endorsed a temporary spending plan with no wall funding. The question of wall funding remains open, however, and the reopening is only until Feb. 15.
Trump said a special committee will work on an overall border security plan as the government is reopened. “The wall should not be controversial,” he said.
“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress,” he said, “the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution … to address this emergency.”
Trump continued to stump for his border wall, saying Democrats have backed wall funding in the past. He also played down the scope of his plan, saying his wall would not be built coast to coast, and could just as easily be steel slat fencing.
Following Trump’s speech, lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed optimism that the shutdown would soon be over.
‘Now that there’s an agreement between Democrats and the White House, we can make that happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
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.”
Hopefully, Schumer added, a lesson has been learned from the 35-day impasse.“Shutting down government over a policy difference is self-defeating,” he said.
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.”
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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, putting pressure on Democrats.
“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 released by his office.
Some Republicans were dismayed by the turn of the events.
“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 encouraged 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.
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 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 compensated.
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