President Trump said Tuesday he’s not happy with a bipartisan border deal in Congress aimed at averting another government shutdown, but he suggested he could add to it to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall and predicted there will not be another lapse in government funding.
“Am I happy at first glance? The answer is no, I’m not, I’m not happy,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he met with Cabinet members.
“It’s not going to do the trick, but I’m adding things to it and when you add whatever I have to add, it’s all going to happen where we’re going to build a beautiful big strong wall,” Trump said.
A number of Senate Republicans were cognizant of Trump’s uneasiness with the deal, but they also noted that he had stopped short of saying it was unacceptable. Trump spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the deal midday Tuesday, a person briefed on the call said, though the precise contents of the conversation could not be learned.
Speaking to reporters after a closed-door GOP lunch, top Republicans cast the bill with over $1.3 billion for barriers as a down payment on Trump’s wall.
“I’m hoping he will find this acceptable and sign the bill,” said McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) implored Trump to back the legislation.
“Please Mr. President, nobody got everything they wanted in this bill but sign it and don’t cause a shutdown,” Schumer told reporters.
Trump’s comments came a day after bipartisan negotiators struck a deal that would give him a fraction of the money he’s sought to build his wall, the issue that led to the record-long partial government shutdown that ended late last month. Lawmakers and Trump face a deadline Friday at midnight to pass new spending legislation to avert another shutdown.
Trump said he did not want and would not accept another government shutdown, although he defended the one he already had.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown. I wouldn’t want to see a shutdown. If you did have it, it’s the Democrats fault,” Trump said. “And I accepted the first one, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished because people learned during that shutdown all about the problems coming in from the southern border. I accept it. I’ve always accepted it. But this one, I would never accept it if it happens.”
The bipartisan agreement announced late Monday by the top four leaders of Congress’ spending committees 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.
Trump did not make clear by what he meant by suggesting he could add to a deal passed by Congress, but one option White House officials have strongly considered is to accept the money Congress appropriates for new wall funds, and then take additional steps using executive action to redirect billions of additional dollars.
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said last week that he had already identified substantially more than $5.7 billion in other taxpayer-funded programs that could legally be reappropriated for building a wall. He didn’t identify what those programs were, however, and White House officials have acknowledged that any such step could invite a legal challenge.
Conservatives have been attacking the deal reached on Capitol Hill, leading to concerns that a backlash from the right could derail it. But Trump’s remarks suggested the president might end up accepting it, if only grudgingly.
GOP leaders are desperate to avoid another shutdown, after the last one forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay for more than a month and cut into an array of crucial services from airport screenings to food safety inspections. Polls suggest the public blaming Trump more than Democrats for the shutdown.
The shutdown ended when Trujmp reopened the government with a short-term spending bill that provided no new wall money but gave Congress three weeks to come up with a deal. That deadline arrives Friday night.
Lawmakers pulled the deal together during hours of arduous negotiations at the Capitol Monday, after talks had collapsed over the weekend over the new Democratic demands over how many immigrants ICE can contain. But conservatives said the compromise fails to fulfill Trump’s promises.
“No Republican should support this border deal charade,” conservative media host Laura Ingraham wrote Tuesday morning in a Twitter post.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter: “Trump talks a good game on the border wall but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it. Call this his ‘Yellow New Deal.’”
In past negotiations, a conservative backlash has forced Trump into retreat. But McConnell welcomed the deal Tuesday, suggesting Democrats had backed down.
“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.
The president also renewed his threat of declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and use the military to build the wall, saying, “I’m considering everything.” Lawmakers of both parties oppose a national emergency declaration, and Senate Republicans fear they might have to vote on it in a vote that could embarrass the president.
The deal reached Monday 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 flash point 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 detention 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.
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. The deal would fund all government operations through the end of September, 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.
Nick Miroff and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report