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Senate Passes Short-Term Deal To Reopen Government, With Trump’s Endorsement

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seen in September 2018, helped broker a possible deal between lawmakers that could end the government shutdown.
Image credit: Alex Brandon

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

President Trump has endorsed a bipartisan deal that would end the 35-day partial government shutdown. The three-week stopgap funding measure would reopen shuttered agencies while negotiations continue.

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.

Friday afternoon, the Senate quickly passed the bill to fund the government through Feb. 15 without objection. The chamber also authorized moving forward on a longer-term Department of Homeland Security funding bill for the rest of the fiscal year, where border security funds can be negotiated on a bipartisan basis.

The bills now go to the House, where lawmakers are expected to pass them in time for President Trump to sign Friday night.

The president’s signature would bring to a close the longest government shutdown in history. The question remains, however, what Trump exactly accomplished with his firm stance against any deal without funding for a border wall, which he eventually capitulated to.

The proposal backed by congressional leaders does not include funding for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump has pushed for, and the Homeland Security bill would not include money earmarked for a wall, either.

Ultimately, as the president’s approval ratings tumbled and polls showed the public largely blamed Republicans for the increasingly dire situation — punctuated on Friday by massive delays at major airports and recent warnings about a threat to national security — Trump finally seemed to back down from his demands. At least for now.

Another shutdown looming in three weeks?

Trump seemed to revive earlier deal-breakers as he ended his speech, warning that if negotiations over the next three weeks don’t result in funding for the “powerful wall or steel barrier” he has demanded, “the government would either shut down again” or he would declare a national emergency to build the wall.

“I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time. Hopefully it will be unnecessary,” Trump teased at the beginning of his remarks about the extreme measures — which would very likely face legal challenges in court.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shiny sea,” the president added, showing an openness to some technology efforts that some Democrats have signaled they could back. Still, he reiterated proposals to build barriers in specific areas identified by the Border Patrol, strengthen security at legal ports of entry and provide humanitarian assistance to those who have crossed the border.

“Walls or barriers or whatever you want to call it will be an important part of the solution,” said Trump, who has regularly contradicted himself in how he describes the promised wall.

The president’s remarks soon veered into his standard stump speech on the dangers of illegal immigration — many of those claims have been fact-checked in the past to be misleading or exaggerated.

Democrats take a victory lap

Trump and Republicans had long maintained any deal to end the shutdown must include funding for the border wall the president wants, which was his key promise during the 2016 campaign. But Democrats said they should reopen the government and then resume talks, which is exactly what Friday’s deal does.

Democratic leaders argued their conference’s unity is what eventually caused Trump to cave.

“The American people do not like it when you throw a wrench into the lives of government workers over an unrelated political dispute,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters. “Hopefully now the president has learned his lesson.”

Consequences of the prolonged shutdown

Federal employees who have been working without pay or are furloughed would also get back pay as part of the agreement, though it’s unclear how long that might take. Federal contractors also impacted by the shutdown would not get any back pay.

The breakthrough comes as federal workers missed their second paycheck in a row, now going without their salaries for more than a month. Trump thanked those workers, calling them “patriots” and said they have “suffered” far greater than anyone but they and their families can understand.

The prolonged stalemate has pushed the nation’s security and infrastructure to the brink, with significant flight delays at major airports due to Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration absences escalating on Friday. The FBI has also warned that critical crime-fighting measures are also being curtailed with its agents limited and working without pay.

Final offers

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally who has also pushed for major changes to the nation’s immigration laws, wrote on Twitter that he was working on a short-term, three-week funding bill “that includes a down payment on wall/barrier funding and Democratic priorities for disaster relief showing good faith from both sides.” But Democrats said that would be another non-starter.

Trump signaled Thursday he might be open to a compromise, after his proposal to reopen the government with full funding for his border wall failed in the Senate. His plan would have included border wall funding in exchange for three years of legal status and other protections for those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and those with temporary protected status.

A competing plan backed by Democrats also failed to pass on Thursday. That proposal would have been a short-term funding measure through Feb. 8 with additional disaster aid but no money for the wall. Though it failed, more members voted for the Democrats’ proposal in the GOP-controlled Senate than for Trump’s plan.

McConnell and Schumer continued negotiations after the votes, and Trump told reporters Thursday he could approve of a possible deal if the two leaders reached one.

“It depends on what the agreement is,” Trump said. “If they come to a reasonable agreement I would support it.”

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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