The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Lawmakers line up behind bipartisan border deal to avert shutdown, as Trump signals he may sign it

During a Feb. 12 Cabinet meeting, President Trump said he is “extremely unhappy with what the Democrats have given us.” (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The threat of another government shutdown receded Tuesday as lawmakers lined up behind a fragile border security compromise and President Trump predicted that federal agencies would stay open.

Trump did not publicly endorse the bipartisan agreement, which offers just a fraction of the money he’s sought for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. But with a shutdown deadline looming Friday at midnight, the president suggested he might be able to accept the deal, saying he could take other steps to fund his wall.

“Am I happy at first glance? The answer is no, I’m not, I’m not happy,” Trump told reporters around midday 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.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Feb. 12 that the bipartisan agreement to avoid another government shutdown is now in the hands of President Trump. (Video: Rhonda Colvin, Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Hours later, after speaking on the phone with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Trump offered a more positive take. He praised Shelby in a tweet as “hard working,” welcomed increased border security spending in the deal apart from the wall and wrote, “Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!”

As Trump warmed to the emerging legislation, the House prepared to vote on it as soon as Wednesday evening, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), and action in the Senate could follow Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also briefed Trump, later telling reporters that he hopes to have the president’s support, because “he’s got a pretty good deal here.”

The compromise, which bipartisan negotiators struck late Monday after reviving stalled talks, includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fences along the border, short of the $5.7 billion Trump had sought for 234 miles of steel walls.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle claimed that as a win — Democrats because the figure agreed to is much lower than Trump’s original request, and Republicans because it does give Trump the ability to build some new segments of barriers.

The barriers would be targeted for the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a priority area for the Border Patrol. The deal also includes compromise language on funding immigrant detention by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Some conservatives attacked the plan in withering terms, but there was a growing acceptance among others on the right that it was likely to become law.

“I think he will sign it, I think the president will sign it,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus. “I think he will do so reluctantly. And then obviously have to use executive actions to secure our borders.”

It wasn’t clear exactly what executive actions Trump might try to take. One option White House officials have strongly considered is to accept the money Congress appropriates for the wall, then take additional steps using executive authority to redirect potentially billions of dollars more.

Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency at the southern border, a move that could allow him to bypass Congress and use the military to build the wall. That idea has run into bipartisan opposition, but some GOP lawmakers offered support for the more limited approach of redirecting spending.

Democrats said they would challenge such efforts, but several Republicans described the money the deal offers for border barriers as a “down payment” that the president could build on.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and others pointed specifically to a military program providing for the construction of roads and fences to block drug smuggling, which Blunt said could offer $881 million for the president’s purposes.

“The defense budget, I’m sure they very likely already have in mind what they’d like to do with that $881 million, but if the president was looking for $881 million that he controls, he can look at what they wanted to do with it and decide if barriers would be a more important use,” Blunt said. “It’s certainly a specifically approved use in drug trafficking areas, and these areas would all fit that definition.”

The developments came amid abundant signs from lawmakers of both parties that, after living through a record-long 35-day shutdown that ended late last month, they are eager to finalize a spending agreement that would remove the shutdown threat for the rest of the fiscal year — and allow them to flee Washington for a scheduled congressional recess next week.

The deal under consideration would fund, through Sept. 30, the Homeland Security, State, Agriculture and Commerce departments, along with other agencies large and small, composing about 25 percent of the federal budget controlled by Congress. The remaining federal agencies and departments, including the Pentagon, have already been funded through Sept. 30 in spending bills passed last year.

The bill was still being written Tuesday night, and lawmakers from both parties were pushing to include a number of favored provisions. Some Democrats wanted to add language that would provide back pay to federal contractors who were caught in the middle of the recent shutdown, but it was unclear if lawmakers would be successful in getting the provision included.

“Please Mr. President, nobody got everything they wanted in this bill, but sign it and don’t cause a shutdown,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Some 800,000 federal workers, and tens of thousands more contractors, went without pay during the last shutdown, and crucial services at airports, food inspection sites, the IRS and elsewhere were jeopardized.

The president defended pushing the nation into a record-long shutdown in a failed attempt to force Congress to pay for the wall, but suggested he’d made his point and did not want to repeat the experience.

“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.”

Although the dispute began over Trump’s wall demands, another flash point was the question of how many detention beds can be maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 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 ICE at 45,274 beds, an increase from levels funded in the 2018 budget.

Democrats said that, because ICE regularly exceeds the bed funding limits, the deal will result in a decrease in detentions over time, while Republicans said ICE will have the authorities needed to maintain and increase detention levels.

In a sign that it could meet the classic definition of a compromise — something that satisfies no one — the deal drew condemnation from both right and left Tuesday.

“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,’ ” conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter.

Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network, said the agreement “makes morally wrong and deeply harmful concessions.”

“In particular, this deal actually 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.

Robert Costa, Paul Kane, Mike DeBonis, Nick Miroff and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.