WASHINGTON — Submitting to mounting pressure amid growing disruption, President Donald Trump signed a bill 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 on the southern border with Mexico. The deal he reached with congressional leaders contains no new money for the wall but ends the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
First the Senate, then the House swiftly and unanimously approved the deal. Late Friday, Trump signed it into law. The administration asked federal department leaders to reopen offices in a “prompt and orderly manner” and said furloughed employees can return to work.
Trump’s retreat came in the 35th day of the partial shutdown as intensifying delays at the nation’s airports and another missed payday for hundreds of thousands of federal workers brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff.
“This was in no way a concession,” Trump tweeted late Friday, fending off critics who wanted him to keep fighting. “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 shutdown ended as Democratic leaders insisted it must — reopen the government first, then talk border security.
“The president thought he could crack Democrats, and he didn’t, and I hope it’s a lesson for him,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about her members: “Our unity is our power. And that is what maybe the president underestimated.”
Trump still made the case for a border wall and maintained he might again shut down the government over it. Yet, as negotiations restart, Trump enters them from a weakened position. A strong majority of Americans blamed him for the standoff and rejected his arguments for a border wall, recent polls show.
“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.
The president has said he could declare a national emergency to fund the border wall unilaterally if Congress doesn’t provide the money. Such a move would almost certainly face legal hurdles.
As part of the deal with congressional leaders, a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers was being formed to consider border spending as part of the legislative process in the weeks ahead.
“They are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first,” Trump said. He asserted that a “barrier or walls will be an important part of the solution.”
The deal includes back pay for some 800,000 federal workers who have gone without paychecks. The Trump administration promises to pay them as soon as possible.
Also expected is a new date for the president to deliver his State of the Union address, postponed during the shutdown. But it will not be Jan. 29 as once planned, according to a person familiar with the planning but unauthorized to discuss it.
As border talks resume, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes there will be “good-faith negotiations over the next three weeks to try to resolve our differences.”
Schumer said that while Democrats oppose the wall money, they agree on other ways to secure the border “and that bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement.”
Hawaii Gov. David Ige stated Friday’s agreement to reopen the federal government for three weeks brings great relief to thousands of working families throughout the state and nation.
“I urge our lawmakers to work together to permanently reopen our federal government and keep our country running,” he said.
Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the department is grateful for Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard members who continued to work despite not being paid during the shutdown.
“The workers here in Hawaii did continue to show up,” he said. “I have know doubt there was a hardship. It is to their credit that they continued to work and showed up for duty.”
Sakahara said he hopes come Feb. 15 the government will stay open.
“I want to express my sympathy and my solidarity with all of the workers in Hawaii who had to go through this experience,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat. “A huge thank you must also go to Hawaii’s banks, credit unions, utilities and nonprofits that stepped up to help federal workers in our state. Shutdowns don’t work, and I’m hopeful that everyone has learned this lesson for the last time.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, also a Hawaii Democrat, said Friday’s announcement was a welcome end to the “unnecessary, unconscionable Trump shutdown.”
“Over the past 35 days, Donald Trump took hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors, and indeed the entire country, hostage — all because of his obsession with building his vanity wall,” Hirono said. “It was telling that even in announcing an end to the shutdown, Donald Trump resorted to lies and distortions to justify his vanity wall in anticipation of negotiations over the next three weeks.”
While the debate continues on border security, Hirono added, lawmakers need to pass a bill to fully fund all government operations through the end of the fiscal year.
“Come Feb. 15, there cannot be another government shutdown,” she said. “Donald Trump has proven time and again that his word is no good and he changes his mind on a whim. It’s up to Congress to step up to its responsibility as a separate branch of government, do its job and keep the government open.”
In striking the accord to reopen the government, Trump risks backlash from conservatives who pushed him to keep fighting for the wall. Some lashed out Friday for his having yielded, for now, on his signature campaign promise.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter suggested on Twitter that she views Trump as “the biggest wimp” to serve as president.
Money for the wall is not at all guaranteed, as Democrats have remained united against building a structure as Trump once envisioned, preferring other types of border technology. Asked about Trump’s wall, Pelosi, who has said repeatedly she won’t approve money for it, said: “Have I not been clear? No, I have been very clear.”
Within the White House, there was broad recognition among Trump’s aides that the shutdown pressure was growing, and they couldn’t keep the standoff going indefinitely. The president’s approval numbers suffered during the impasse. Overnight and Friday, several Republicans were calling on him openly, and in private, to reopen the government.
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 because of 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.
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.”
West Hawaii Today reporter Tiffany DeMasters contributed to this story.