Trump criticizes bipartisan border deal to avert another government shutdown
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday he's not happy with a bipartisan border deal in Congress that would avert another government shutdown set to start at the end of Friday.
"I can't say I'm happy. I can't say I'm thrilled," Trump told reporters as he met with members of his Cabinet at the White House, a day after the deal was struck giving Trump a fraction of the money he's sought for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.
At the same time, Trump said he did not think there would be another government shutdown. "If you did have it, it's the Democrats fault," he added.
"I would hope that there won't be a shutdown," Trump said. "I am extremely unhappy with what the Democrats have given us."
Trump's comments cast doubt on the path forward for the compromise, which must pass the House and Senate and get signed into law before midnight Friday. Unless Congress and Trump act on the legislation, or take some other action, large portions of the federal government will run out of money and begin to shut down, just three weeks after the last partial government shutdown ended.
The agreement includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fences along the border, short of the $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of walls. It retreats from Democrats' demands for stringent new limits on the ability of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to detain undocumented immigrants. Lawmakers pulled the deal together during hours of arduous negotiations at the Capitol on Monday, after talks had collapsed over the weekend over the new Democratic demands over how many immigrants ICE can contain.
Lawmakers said they were motivated by the desire to avoid another government shutdown, after a 35-day funding lapse forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay until Trump reopened the government with a short-term spending bill that gave Congress three weeks to come up with a deal. That deadline arrives Friday night.
The deal quickly came under attack from some conservatives who said it fails to fulfill Trump's promises.
Tuesday morning, conservative media host Laura Ingraham attacked the deal in a Twitter post.
"No Republican should support this border deal charade," she wrote.
In past negotiations, a conservative backlash has forced Trump into retreat. But lawmakers of both parties are determined to avoid another shutdown, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., welcomed the deal Tuesday.
"I look forward to reviewing the full text as soon as possible and hope the Senate can act on this legislation in short order," McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Trump renewed his threat of declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and use the military to bild the wall, saying, "I'm considering everything."
During a Tuesday morning television appearance, House Appropriations Chairman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., dismissed the criticism from conservative commentators and lawmakers.
"That probably confirms for me that it's a good deal," she said on CNN.
Asked if she had received any signals from the White House that Trump would accept the deal, Lowey said: "Look, I don't listen to signals from above. I listen to the words of my colleagues who are negotiating with me ... I am cautiously optimistic that those who don't want to shut the government down will endorse this bill."
The deal omits a strict new cap Democrats had sought on immigrants detained within the United States -- as opposed to at the border. At the same time, it sets funding for the average number of detention beds maintained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at 45,274 beds, an increase from levels funded in the 2018 budget.
Funding for detention beds had emerged as a flashpoint in the negotiations, since it has become a priority issue for both parties. Democrats aim to limit the Trump administration's aggressive immigration enforcement activities, while Republicans are working to support or expand them.
The two parties offered different spin on the outcome, with Democrats claiming that, because ICE now regularly exceeds the bed funding limits, the deal will result in a decrease. Republicans say ICE will have the authorities needed to maintain and increase existing levels.
And even as conservative lawmakers and groups criticized the deal, immigrant advocacy groups also began to attack it Tuesday.
Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network, called the deal "an embarrassing defeat for Trump." But she also said the agreement "makes morally wrong and deeply harmful concessions."
"In particular, this deal actual increases funding available for immigration detention by about 5,000 people per day, helping to grow the machinery of deportation and further heighten the risk faced by immigrant communities across the country," Small said.
At a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night, Trump told a crowd of supporters that he was briefed on the conference committee's progress as he was walking onstage. "Just so you know -- we're building the wall anyway," Trump declared to the audience.
The president has readied a plan to declare a national emergency on the southern border, which he believes will allow him to redirect taxpayer money from other projects to build parts of a wall -- without approval from Congress. Democrats are all but certain to mount a legal challenge to this approach, and many Republicans also oppose it.
Trump defended the record-long 35-day government shutdown that ended late last month -- even though polling suggests voters largely blamed him for the impasse.
"If we didn't do that shutdown, we would not have been able to show this country, these politicians, the world, what the hell is happening with the border. That was a very important thing we did," Trump said.
Trump's reaction leave the deal's fate in doubt, but negotiators said that, with the president's assent, there would be time for the legislation to pass the House and Senate and be signed ahead of the Friday midnight deadline when large portions of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, will run out of funding and begin to shut down.
Negotiators said the deal would fund all government operations through the end of September, potentially removing any more shutdown threats for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he was not surprised by some of the resistance to the plan on the hard-right wing of the GOP. "I think it's probably never going to be good enough for a lot of the folks out there," said Thune, who is McConnell's top deputy.
Thune said the opposition would probably affect Trump's thinking "up to a point," but it was still possible to rally conservative support for the plan. "I think you can just argue that he gets to build wall," said Thune, who spoke positively about the elements of the proposal he has seen so far.
"I'm inclined to be for something that gets us out of this logjam that we're in and builds the wall and keeps the government open," said Thune, who added Democrats apparently "gave a lot of ground" in the dispute over detention beds.
Thune reiterated his opposition to Trump declaring a national emergency to secure border wall funding, but added, "that doesn't mean he won't do it."
Republican aides pointed to the new miles of wall money in the deal as a win, since it's a significant increase over existing funding levels for new border barriers -- as opposed to repairs of existing fencing -- and it was not plausible that Trump was going to ge the full $5.7 billion he sought now that Democrats control the House.
The White House and congressional leaders have struggled for months to reach an agreement on a government funding bill because of major differences between Democrats and Republicans over immigration policy.
Those negotiators had made steady progress but ran into trouble over the weekend. The White House had largely signaled to Republicans that it would soften its demand for wall money, convinced it could use other legal maneuvers to redirect existing funds. Instead, discussions bogged down over disagreements about how many undocumented immigrants could be detained at once. Republicans wanted flexibility in detention rules, arguing they needed to be able to adjust to account for violent criminals and others. Democrats countered that the changes Republicans sought would give the White House almost limitless powers to detain as many people as it wanted.
The unexpected dispute imperiled talks, spooking negotiators as they worried they were running out of time. Democrats signaled earlier Monday that they were more interested in cutting a deal than digging in as the Friday deadline neared, and they largely backed down by late Monday. Democrats' new demands on detention beds had come under withering attack from Republicans who said the result would be to allow criminals to roam free, and some Democrats conceded privately that their position was unsustainable.
Congressional Republicans have misread Trump's intentions before.
Four days before the last shutdown in December, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made clear that Trump was not sticking to his demand that Congress appropriate roughly $5 billion in taxpayer money to build a wall along the Mexico border. Instead, White House officials were searching for money in other accounts that they would redirect toward wall construction.
GOP leaders took that as a signal that Trump wanted to avoid a shutdown and would sign a spending bill, a position that was reinforced when Vice President Mike Pence visited Senate Republicans later that day. There was a bit of confusion from Senators in the room, though, whether Pence had said definitively that Trump would sign the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., passed the spending bill on Wednesday, Dec. 19, by unanimous consent, meaning all Democrats and Republicans supported it. But by that evening, Trump received a number of phone calls from angry conservatives telling him to oppose the spending bill. On Thursday, Dec. 20, one day before the shutdown deadline, House GOP leaders announced they would not pass the Senate's spending bill because Trump had informed them he would not vote for it. The shutdown began less than 48 hours later.
The discussions were the first major political test for Democrats and Republicans after the last government shutdown froze the paychecks of 800,000 federal workers. If the deal falters and the result is another partial government shutdown, that could have a broad impact on the country.
Funding lapses would go beyond the Homeland Security Department to hit a number of other federal agencies, including the Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Agriculture and Interior departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service, which is processing tax returns for millions of Americans.
The Washington Post's Nick Miroff contributed to this report.