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Trump signs $1.3 trillion spending bill despite veto threat on Twitter

Hours after he threatened to veto, President Trump signs omnibus spending bill into law, averting a government shutdown. (Video: The Washington Post)

Just hours after threatening a veto, President Trump said Friday afternoon that he had signed a “ridiculous” $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday, averting a government shutdown.

In a morning tweet, Trump said he might veto the omnibus bill because it did nothing to address the fate of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” and did not fully fund his border wall.

But speaking to reporters at the White House about four hours later, Trump said he had decided to sign the bill despite his reservations, arguing that it provides much-needed funding for the military, including a pay increase for troops and new equipment.

“My highest duty is to keep America safe,” Trump said. “We need to take care of our military.”

Still, he voiced disdain for the hasty way the bill was passed.

“I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again,” Trump said, also calling on Congress to give him a line-item veto, a tool that the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional for a president.

“There are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill,” he said later in his 20-minute remarks, telling reporters that he had “very seriously” considered a veto.

Why did Trump threaten to veto a spending bill hours before he signed it?

The announcement, which Trump teased in a separate tweet an hour before, capped off a wild morning in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Several aides scrambled to persuade the president not to follow through with his veto threat.

In his tweet Friday morning, Trump said that those protected from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been “totally abandoned” by Congress, and he blamed the Democrats.

Trump, who decided last fall to end the DACA program, was seeking a deal that would give Democrats protections they sought for the program's recipients in exchange for additional funding of $25 billion for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. The bill includes $1.6 billion for fencing and other border security measures.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump said in his tweet.

In his remarks at the White House, Trump said he was disappointed in the level of border-security funding but pledged to do as much as possible with it and to seek more money from Congress.

Saying he was addressing Hispanics, Trump argued that his party is more interested in the fate of dreamers than Democrats are.

“Republicans are much more on your side than the Democrats, who are using you for their own purposes,” the president said. His aides have argued Democrats are trying to use DACA as an election issue.

People familiar with Trump’s thinking said the president was frustrated with the bill and the coverage it was receiving, particularly on Fox News, where critics took aim at the level of spending in the bill.

“He doesn’t care as much about the spending levels, but he knows all of his conservative friends do,” said a senior White House official who requested anonymity to speak more candidly.

Lawmakers have left town on a two-week recess, some of them on overseas trips and with no plans to return to Washington. The House passed the bill midday Thursday, and the Senate cleared the measure early Friday, shortly after midnight.

In late-night drama, Senate passes $1.3 trillion spending bill, averting government shutdown

Trump had until midnight Friday to sign a bill, or a government shutdown would have ensued.

Negotiators in Congress on March 21 reached an agreement on a $1.3 trillion spending bill, keeping government agencies operating through September. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Win McNamee/The Washington Post)

The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year.

The spending bill is widely expected to be the last major legislation that Congress will pass before the November midterm elections, increasing pressure to jam the bill full of odds and ends, with provisions addressing areas as varied as guns and invasive carp.

The lack of an immigration deal in the spending bill had set already set off a round of recriminations, with the White House aggressively trying to deflect responsibility.

Trump’s veto threat only intensified the blame game Friday morning.

“Let's not forget that you ended DACA and torpedoed every possible bipartisan fix. This is on you,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said on Twitter.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) accused Trump of making a “loser’s bluff.”

“Go ahead and veto the omnibus over DACA. We dare you,” Pocan said on Twitter. “Everyone knows you’re the reason DACA recipients are abandoned.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers who opposed the spending bill on other grounds used the occasion to urge Trump to follow through with his threat.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, urged Trump to veto the bill: “The@freedomcaucus would fully support you in this move, Mr. President. Let's pass a short term [continuing resolution] while you negotiate a better deal for the forgotten men and women of America.”

Also urging Trump to veto the bill was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who in a tweet Friday morning said: “Please do, Mr. President. I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus. Totally irresponsible.”

Before the Senate’s early-morning vote Friday, Corker had complained about the process of rushing the bill through Congress.

Several other conservative lawmakers egged Trump on Friday morning, complaining about the amount of spending and the rushed process. But there was no indication that Trump shared those concerns.

Instead, in his veto threat Friday, Trump proposed something that conservative hard-liners have largely rejected in recent months — trading dreamer protections for border-wall money. Conservatives, emboldened by a White House proposal released in January, have insisted that any immigration deal go further, cutting several programs that allow foreign nationals to live in the United States legally.

Other senior Republicans made Twitter pleas urging Trump to sign the bill. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) rattled off several policy wins in a Friday tweet directed at the president, including a gun-related measure long championed by the Texas Republican that was included in the 2,232-page spending measure.

“While Ds obstructed normal appropriations process, forcing an Omnibus, the benefits of Omnibus to national security, border security, opioid crisis, infrastructure, school safety and fixing gun background check system are important and will save lives. @realDonaldTrump,” Cornyn tweeted Friday.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said of Trump’s threat: “I hope he doesn’t do it. That’s my reaction.”

“I don’t think what we did was the best thing we could have done,” Isakson added. “But it was the only thing we could have done, so to veto it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sized up the president’s veto threat Friday morning this way: “Art of the Deal-Wrecker!” He urged the president to sign the bill.

“One day after his own [Office of Management and Budget] director said he would sign it … he’s now saying he’s thinking about vetoing it,” Kaine told reporters. “What, does he just want to create more confusion and chaos? I don’t get it.”

Kaine said Trump’s professed concern about DACA recipients is not sincere, saying he walked away from an offer from Democrats weeks ago to protect them in exchange for more border-security funding.

“He was the one who poured cold water on it and killed it among the Republicans just a month ago,” Kaine said.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said: “This is classic Trump. He says one thing and then he does something completely different.”

Van Hollen added, “He’s actually one of the worst negotiators I’ve ever seen.”

Although Trump aides declared Thursday that Trump intended to sign the bill, there were signs of his displeasure with various aspects of it.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) rushed to the White House to reassure Trump.

The president was upset with the lack of money for his border wall, and he griped about a proposed tunnel between New York and New Jersey — a project beloved by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — that Trump tried to block as part of the negotiations.

Veto threats were made then, too, but after conversations with Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the White House issued a statement saying Trump supported the bill.

“Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at the White House on Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday, the White House also issued a lengthy release titled “The American People Win as President Donald J. Trump’s Priorities are Funded,” with a long list of specific items in the massive legislation.

Asked about the president’s tweet Friday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement, “The tweet stands for itself.”

 Josh Dawsey, Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.