WASHINGTON — Congress passed a bill Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks, until Feb. 15, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.
Trump announced the agreement to end the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier Friday, and the Senate unanimously passed it Friday afternoon. The House approved the bill hours later.
The proposal, as outlined by Trump in his speech, includes a bipartisan panel that will come up with solutions for border security. Before and throughout the shutdown, the president wanted $5.7 billion for a wall on the border with Mexico; he didn’t mention whether the deal included that money, and CNN and The Associated Press are reporting that it does not.
It’s not known when federal workers would start getting paid again. The legislation still needs Trump’s signature, then the Office of Management and Budget has to issue a memorandum sending workers back to their jobs.
Democratic leaders speak
Speaking after Trump’s announcement, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agreement validated the Democrats’ position, calling it “along the outlines of what we proposed.”
He thanked the federal workers for working without pay, saying the administration “treated them as pawns.” He added that the shutdown proved how important federal workers are to the operation of the country. “Hopefully, the president has learned his lesson.”
“We agree on many things” that Trump finds important, Schumer said, such as drug inspections and humanitarian aid, “and that bodes well” for an agreement.
Pelosi said House Democrats “look forward to working in a bipartisan, bicameral way” on the issue of border security.
Schumer said Trump agreed to end the shutdown because “he knew that it was a lost cause.” Pelosi said the Democrats’ “unity is our power. And that is what maybe the president underestimated.”
During his speech, Trump seemed to backtrack on his border-wall promise, saying that while physical barriers are necessary, “We never did” need a wall “from sea to shining sea.”
But he began the speech by alluding to his threat to declare a national emergency to begin border wall construction and ended it by saying that if Congress didn’t reach what he considered “a fair deal,” the government would either shut down again on Feb. 15 or he will “use the powers afforded to me … to address this emergency.”
He retreated into the White House without facing questions from reporters. Later, however, CNN’s Abby Philip reported that Trump made it clearer:
Trump took one question on the shutdown and whether he’ll declare a national emergency: “We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate and if we can’t do that, then we’ll do a — obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is. It’s a national emergency.”
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) January 25, 2019
Much of the federal government closed Dec. 22, when the president insisted on a shutdown because no spending bill had passed that included money for a wall on the border with Mexico. He had insisted on building a wall often during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying repeatedly that Mexico would pay for it.
Overnight and into Friday, at least five Republican senators had been calling Trump, urging him to reopen the government and have the Senate consider his request for border wall funds through regular legislation, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss the private talks publicly.
In an embarrassment to Trump, a Democratic proposal to end the shutdown got two more votes in the Senate on Thursday than a GOP plan, even though Republicans control the chamber 53-47. Six Republicans backed the Democratic plan, including freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has clashed periodically with the president.
The Senate first rejected a Republican plan reopening the government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.
Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to government workers who are either working without pay or being forced to stay home.
Thursday’s votes came after Vice President Mike Pence lunched privately with restive GOP senators, who told him they were itching for the standoff to end, participants said. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said their message to Pence was, “Find a way forward.”
Throughout, the two sides issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump had refused to reopen government until Congress gave him the wall money, and congressional Democrats rejected bargaining until he reopened the government.
Major delays have been reported at airports Friday, stemming from a shortage of air traffic control staffing. It’s not known whether the air traffic control situation had a transformative effect on the standoff, but “senior lawmakers thought it would be something related to air safety,” said WTOP Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller. “You have definitely felt a lot of heat rising in the past 24 to 48 hours.”
Miller added that the sense he’d gotten from senators he’d spoken to was that “we don’t want this to happen again.”
Miller pointed out that the proposal is very similar to several others that have died on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.
“We really were at this point many weeks ago,” Miller said, calling the situation “mind-boggling.” Pelosi said, “It’s sad that it’s taken this long to come to an obvious conclusion.”
Friday was the 35th day of the government shutdown — easily the longest in U.S. history — and for federal workers it was the second straight payless payday. On Thursday, the Senate blocked two bills — one backed by the White House, one by Democrats — to end the shutdown.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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