US President Donald Trump signed a short-term deal to end the shutdown after delays at the airports and widespread disruptions brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff.
Yielding to mounting pressure and growing disruption, Trump and congressional leaders reached a deal to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over the president’s demands for money to build his long-promised wall at the US-Mexico border.
Trump announced the agreement on Friday (Saturday NZ time) to break the 35-day impasse as intensifying delays at the nation’s airports and widespread disruptions brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff.
Government workers who have gone a month without getting paid expressed relief that a deal had been reached to end the impasse but are worried they’ll be in the same spot in a few weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate will approve the deal, with the House set to follow later on Friday. The legislation would include back pay for some 800,000 federal workers who have gone without paycheques.
McConnell says he knows “the pain that this episode has caused” across the country. The Kentucky Republican says federal workers who have gone without pay “deserve this resolution”.
After saying for weeks that he would not reopen the government without border wall money, Trump said he would sign a bill to re-open the government through February 15 without additional money for his signature campaign promise. He said that a bipartisan committee of lawmakers would be formed to consider border spending before the new deadline.
“They are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first,” Trump said. He asserted that “barrier or walls will be an important part of the solution”.
But he hinted that he was still considering taking unilateral action if efforts to come up with money for his wall fail. “I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time,” he said.
McConnell says he hopes there will be “good-faith negotiations” in the coming weeks to settle differences on border security.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats oppose the billions of dollars Trump wants to build the wall, but do agree on other ways to secure the border. He says that “bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement”.
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 money through regular legislation, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorised to discuss the private talks publicly.
The breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs on Friday due to the shutdown.
And the world’s busiest airport – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – was experiencing long security wait times, a warning sign the week before it expects 150,000 out-of- town visitors for the Super Bowl.
Trump and the Democrats in Congress had remained at odds over his demand that any compromise include money for his coveted border wall.
The standoff became so severe that, as the Senate opened with prayer, Chaplain Barry Black called on high powers in the “hour of national turmoil” to help senators do “what is right”.
Senators were talking with increased urgency after Thursday’s defeat of competing proposals from Trump and the Democrats. The bipartisan talks provided a glimmer of hope that some agreement could be reached to halt the longest-ever closure of federal agencies, at least temporarily.
Pelosi was referring to a meeting on Thursday between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, to explore next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate.
Pressure has been building among both parties to reopen agencies immediately and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers while bargainers hunt for a deal.
Monday is the start of federal tax filing season. But fewer than half of the furloughed IRS employees recalled during the shutdown to handle tax returns and send out refunds reported for work as of Tuesday, according to congressional and government aides. The employees had been told to work without pay.