Trump Signs Bill to End Shutdown, Backing Off Border Wall Demand for Now

Donald Trump
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UPDATED 6:40 p.m. Friday: WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed a bill to temporarily reopen the government, bringing to an end the 35-day government shutdown, the longest on record.

The agreement, reached on Friday between the White House and congressional leaders, would temporarily reopen the government by providing full funding through Feb. 15. Although there would be no money for a border wall, which Trump has demanded, a bipartisan conference committee will review border security as part of a Department of Homeland Security spending bill.

In a statement to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he will sign the bill and make sure that “all employees receive back pay very quickly.”

He said that if lawmakers do not come to a “fair deal” by Feb. 15, presumably one that includes some provision for a border barrier, he would again threaten a government shutdown, or that he would use the executive powers of the presidency to address an emergency.

But his decision to end the shutdown was a retreat from a protracted standoff with congressional Democrats, particularly Nancy Pelosi, who returned to the speakership during the shutdown. The House Democratic caucus remained unified during the shutdown in the insistence that the government reopen before there could be negotiations on a border wall.

“Our unity is our power, and that is maybe what the president underestimated,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “Working people throughout America empathized with the federal workers, and were aghast at what the president was doing to them. Hopefully now the president has learned his lesson.”

In his remarks, Trump again talked of a crisis at the border and the need for a wall, but he left without taking questions from reporters, something that is unusual for him.

The shutdown has forced the furlough of some 800,000 federal workers, but its impact is increasingly being felt by those with no connection to government employees. On Friday, cable news channels were filled with images of New York’s La Guardia Airport as it experienced ground delays because of a shortage of air traffic controllers reporting for work. They were among a category of employees that had been still on the job but not receiving paychecks because of the lapse in government funding.

Agency officials have also been increasingly outspoken about the need to end the shutdown. FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, said on Friday in a video posted on the FBI website that “I’m about as angry as I’ve been in a long, long time.”

“Making some people stay home when they don’t want to, and making others show up without pay – it’s mind-boggling, it’s short-sighted, and it’s unfair,” he said.

Polls showed that Trump was getting most of the blame for the shutdown, and his approval rating dropped.

The shutdown started in December when he refused to sign a set of appropriations bills that did not include funding for a border wall. Trump was seeking a $5.7 billion package of border security funding, including money for a physical barrier along the southern border.

On Thursday, two bills, one a Trump proposal to fund the government along with a border wall, and a Democratic bill that included no funding for a barrier but reopened the government through Feb. 8, failed to advance. Six Republicans defected to support the Democratic proposals. The Washington Post reported that a GOP caucus luncheon that included Vice President Mike Pence was particularly contentious as some lawmakers complained about the lack of a strategy as the shutdown dragged on.

In his remarks, Trump continued to insist that a wall was a proven way to limit illegal immigration at the border, along with drug trafficking and human trafficking.

“The walls that we are building are not medieval walls,” he said. “They are smart walls. These barriers are make of steel and have see-through visibility.”

The shutdown forced federal workers to seek help at food banks and other aid, as they missed two paychecks, and groups in some cities had started to stage free meals for employees. Chef Jose Andres served more than 11,000 hot meals, including from a kitchen near the White House.

The shutdown also featured another standoff between Trump and Pelosi — when to schedule the president’s State of the Union address. Pelosi had suggested that the speech, slated for Tuesday, be delayed until after the shutdown. Trump initially insisted on delivering a speech on that date, but eventually acknowledged that it was a “reasonable” request to delay the speech.

Pelosi said that the date of the State of the Union was still to be announced. “What I’d said to the President is when government is open, we will discuss a mutually agreeable date,” Pelosi told reporters on Friday.