WASHINGTON — Yielding to mounting pressure and growing disruption, President Donald Trump and congressional leaders on Friday reached a short-term deal to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over the president’s demands for money to build his long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump announced the agreement to break the 35-day impasse as intensifying delays at the nation’s airports and widespread disruptions brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff. First the Senate, then the House swiftly and unanimously approved the deal later Friday, sending the legislation to Trump for his signature. It would include back pay for some 800,000 federal workers who have gone without paychecks.
After saying for weeks that he would not reopen the government without border wall money, Trump said he would soon sign a bill to reopen the government through Feb. 15 without additional money for his signature campaign promise. He said that 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.”
But he hinted that he was still considering taking unilateral action if efforts to come up with money for his wall fail,” saying he had “a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time.”
Pressure mounted on the president to ease his demands in the name of reopening the government after the Senate on Thursday rejected dueling Republican and Democratic proposals to end the shutdown — one with wall funding and one without. However, the Democratic one got two more votes than the Republican plan.
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.
Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, were among a bipartisan group of 16 senators who had been negotiating among themselves. Collins voted for both plans on Thursday. King, who caucuses with Democrats, only supported that plan.
After the deal was struck on Friday, Collins said on the Senate floor she hoped future impasses could be resolved without “ever resorting to the shutdown of government again.”
“It is never good policy,” she said. “So let us work together over this next three weeks, come up with a compromise on border security and show the American people that we can govern effectively.”
King said in an interview “the winners are the 800,000 people” who will go back to work or be paid pay again and had been used as “pawns” during the shutdown. He expressed hope that Congress could strike a deal if negotiations are limited border security — not if they expand to immigration reforms that Trump doubled down on support for on Friday.
“I wish he would just come to the table and negotiate on the issues in good faith and not always have some pressure on the side,” King said of Trump. “I think there’s more consensus than he believes on border security.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a statement the shutdown was “entirely unnecessary” and she hoped Congress would have “a good faith debate about border security.” Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, said “lawmakers must come to the table and work together.”
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. 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.
As she entered the Capitol on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters that decisions were ongoing in the Senate, referring to a meeting Thursday between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to explore next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate.
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 on 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.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.