WASHINGTON—Donald Trump caved.
In a move that amounted to a concession of at least short-term defeat, the U.S. president announced Friday that he had agreed with Democrats to sign a bill to fund the U.S. federal government for three weeks, until Feb. 15, without getting any border-wall funding in return.
“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” he said in a speech at the White House.
If he keeps his word, his climbdown will end the 35-day-old partial shutdown Trump initiated to try to pressure Democrats into agreeing to pay for the wall on the Mexican border. The shutdown has forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay, slowed or stopped hundreds of government activities, and done serious damage to Trump’s popularity.
The president’s move will not mean the permanent end to the fight over the wall. Trump implicitly alluded to his threat to declare a national emergency and seize government funds for the wall, if Congress did not use the three-week reprieve to work out a long-term deal that included billions for his proposed wall on the Mexican border.
But he had repeatedly insisted he would not sign any bill without wall money. Senate Republicans, acting on Trump’s wishes, had voted down such a proposal the day before.
“Is there a white flag flying above the White House?” Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s announcement at the White House came hours after Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser and a renowned political trickster, was arrested by the FBI and charged with obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the relationship between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election.
And it came after a series of shutdown developments that weakened his negotiating position.
On Friday morning, a large number of absences by air traffic controllers, who are going unpaid, caused significant delays at major airports in New York, Atlanta and elsewhere. And FBI Director Christopher Wray released an extraordinary video message to employees in which he said, “Making some people stay home when they don’t want to, and making others show up without pay — it’s mind-boggling, it’s short-sighted, and it’s unfair. It takes a lot to get me angry, but I’m about as angry as I’ve been in a long, long time.”
Trump’s lack of leverage was made clear in the Senate on Thursday, when a Democratic proposal — two weeks of government funding, no wall funding — received more votes in the Republican-controlled Senate than Trump’s proposal that included the wall funding. The Republicans who voted for the Democratic proposal included two who face difficult re-election battles in 2020.
The end of the shutdown may allow for the State of the Union address to be held next Tuesday as originally planned. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had refused to allow Trump to give the speech in the House chamber, as is traditional, until the government was funded, forcing him to surrender on a promise to do so regardless of her wishes.
Trump’s poll numbers had worsened significantly over the shutdown, particularly with independent voters. The latest poll, by the Washington Post and ABC and released on Friday, put his approval rating at 37 per cent. Other polls this week also had him in the 30s; the Associated Press had him at 34 per cent, the lowest in more than a year.
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8