Posted on: The Guardian | January 26th, 2019
Author: Lauren Gambino

Measure will fund government for three weeks but Trump threatens fresh shutdown if border wall deal is not reached

Donald Trump has signed legislation to temporarily end the longest-ever partial shutdown of the US government, which has left hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay for more than a month.

Trump announced he would sign the legislation on Friday, 35 days after the shutdown began. The decision marked a significant climbdown by the president. Less than 24 hours before he spoke in the White House Rose Garden, Trump demanded that any solution from Congress should include a “large down-payment” for his long-promised wall along the southern border.

On Friday, however, intensifying delays at airports across the north-east and fresh polling that revealed mounting public frustration provided new urgency for efforts to break the impasse.

“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said.

However, he reminded Americans he had a “powerful alternative”, threatening to declare a national emergency if a deal for wall funding is not reached before the next deadline to fund the government.

“Let me be very clear,” Trump said, “we really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier. If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on 15 February again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the law and the constitution of the US to address this emergency.”

The Senate unanimously passed a funding bill on Friday afternoon. It then went to the House, where it was unanimously approved.

The deal announced on Friday will re-open shuttered federal agencies for three weeks without providing any funding for the wall, Trump’s signature campaign promise. It will enable nearly 800,000 employees have been furloughed or forced to work without pay to return to their jobs and to receive delayed payment.

As part of the agreement, Congress will convene a bipartisan committee to debate funding for border security before 15 February.

The agreement is consistent with Democrats’ negotiating position: that Trump should re-open the government before any new border security measures are agreed.

“Hopefully it means a lesson learned for the White House,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said at a joint press conference with House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “For many of our Republican colleagues, shutting down the government over a policy difference is self-defeating. It accomplishes nothing but pain and suffering for the country and incurs an enormous political cost to the party shutting it down.”

Schumer praised Pelosi’s leadership throughout the month-long saga that consumed the first several weeks of her Speakership and produced a dramatic battle between the her and the president.

“No one should ever underestimate the speaker,” Schumer said, “as Donald Trump has learned.”

As the shutdown went on, Pelosi rescinded an invitation for Trump to deliver the state of the union address, a move believed to be without precedent. The speech was scheduled for 29 January but Pelosi said the decades-old tradition would only take place after the government reopened. Trump toyed with the idea of delivering it in another location but eventually consented to her request.

On Friday, Pelosi told reporters there were no immediate plans to reschedule the speech. The issue would be addressed, she said, after Trump signed the bill.

She applauded Democrats in both chambers for remaining unified, even as many freshmen from moderate and conservative districts weathered accusations that they did not support border security.

“It is very clear that we all understand the importance of securing our borders,” Pelosi said. “We have some very good ideas on how to do that.”

Later on Friday, the president argued that he had not backed down in the feud over wall funding, claiming the agreement “was in no way a concession”.

In the aftermath of the partial closure, a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers have called for banning shutdowns.

“The final package should also end government shutdowns once and for all,” said senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa of Republicans.

The shutdown began on 22 December, over the president’s insistence Congress allocate $5.7bn to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump and Republicans have been under mounting pressure to end the impasse.

As the impact of the shutdown rippled across the economy, union leaders warned that thousands of federal employees were taking on part-time jobs and turning to charity and food banks. On Friday, employees missed a second paycheck. The same morning, federal aviation officials temporarily restricted flights in and out of New York LaGuardia, causing significant delays at Newark and Philadelphia airports.

The Trump administration has come under increasing criticism for a series of comments from officials perceived as tone-deaf to the financial hardship the shutdown placed on federal workers. On Thursday, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said he didn’t “quite understand” why workers had to visit food banks and urged them to instead apply for loans from banks and credit unions.

Pelosi asked: “Is this the ‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude? Or call your father for money?”

A majority of Americans hold Trump and congressional Republicans responsible for the shutdown, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Meanwhile, public disapproval of Trump’s job performance grew by five percentage points to 58%, a clear sign that attempts to satisfy his conservative base carry significant political risk.

Observers noted the timing of the announcement, which came just hours after the arrest of Trump’s longtime political ally, Roger Stone.

Stone was taken into custody by the FBI in a pre-dawn raid on Friday following a seven-count indictment that revealed senior Trump campaign officials sought to benefit from the hacking and release of Democratic emails.

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