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Trump, congressional leaders agree to open government for three weeks

Deal includes plan for the House and Senate to go to conference on Homeland Security funding bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the Capitol on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the Capitol on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have an agreement to reopen government agencies through Feb. 15, providing a temporary reprieve to federal workers who haven’t been paid in nearly a month.

“We have reached a deal,” Trump said Friday at the top of his Rose Garden remarks — although a short time later he threatened another shutdown if he did not eventually get his way. 

“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down again on Feb. 15 again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

Word of a deal came on the afternoon of the 35th day of the partial government shutdown. Trump was scheduled to deliver remarks in the Rose Garden at 1:30 p.m. and started speaking at about 2:17 p.m.

Trump warns of another shutdown if Congress doesn’t reach a new deal by Feb. 15

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“In a short while, I will sign a bill to reopen the government for three weeks, through Feb. 15,” Trump said, noting he will ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put the proposal on the floor immediately.

“As everybody knows, I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time,” he said, seemingly to refer to his ability to declare a national emergency. “Hopefully, it will be unnecessary.”

The tentative agreement, as described by Democratic and Republican congressional sources, is for a continuing resolution for all unfunded departments lasting through Feb. 15 and a vehicle to go to conference on the Homeland Security spending bill.

“This all could have been done 35 days ago, and I think if the president spent less time actually reading his own tweets and more time actually paying attention and running the country, we would have been done,” Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy said. 

“He put these people in misery for six weeks hoping that people would forget he said Mexico was going to pay for it,” the Vermont Democrat added.

Leahy said three weeks would be enough time to reach an agreement on border security spending if it’s left “to the grown-ups.”

A Democratic congressional source said there is no wall money in the agreement and the Senate would vote on it first. The CR would cover all seven remaining bills and includes a provision to provide backpay for furloughed employees.

Trump agreeing to a short-term continuing resolution is a major reversal. It was just three weeks ago that he was in the Rose Garden telling reporters he would not agree to open the government for a short period to allow broader immigration talks to continue. 

“We’re not going to do that,” he said at that Jan. 4 press conference. “We won’t be doing pieces. We won’t be doing it in dribs and drabs.”

“I’ve never seen the president go to the Rose Garden and take a defeat lap; that’s what he did,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said.

“It’s what we proposed in December,” he said.

On Friday, Trump said there will be a bipartisan, bicameral committee formed to continue negotiations over Homeland Security spending that will review information from the experts.

“They will put together a Homeland Security package for me to shortly sign into law,” he said. “Over the next 21 days, I expect Democrats and Republicans will work in good faith.”

Trump spent a long portion of his speech on the need for a border wall, suggesting Congress will be struggling with the same issue over the next three weeks after which another shutdown is possible.

“It’s just common sense, walls work,” Trump said, noting he’s talking about “smart walls.”

“These barriers are made of steel, have see-through visibility, which is very important,” he said. “We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea. We never did.”

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report. 

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