A day after President Trump surrendered in his standoff with congressional Democrats and agreed to reopen the federal government, he continued to push back against the notion — including criticism from political allies — that the episode represented a major defeat.
Trump had insisted for more than a month that he would not let the government shutdown end without securing money for his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But on Friday, he reversed course in the face of mounting public pressure, declining poll numbers, escalating air travel delays and anger from the FBI director whom he selected. The deal struck with congressional leaders reopens the government through Feb. 15, while creating a committee meant to negotiate a border-security agreement.
On Saturday morning, the president took to Twitter, saying that “21 days goes very quickly” and once again vowing that the promised wall would be constructed.
“Will not be easy to make a deal, both parties very dug in,” he wrote. “The case for National Security has been greatly enhanced by what has been happening at the Border & through dialogue. We will build the Wall!”
He also had tweeted Friday night that the deal “was in no way a concession.”
Trump’s efforts to spin the episode as a victory — or at least a momentary pause on the way to a victory — came amid an immediate backlash from conservatives allies, criticisms the image-conscious president had no doubt seen.
While some of his backers rallied around the president, stalwart Trump allies joined in the criticism. Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business Network host, sharply criticized Trump’s move and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “just whipped the president of the United States.” On Saturday, Dobbs predicted the president’s approval ratings would drop even more. Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, suggested Trump was “the biggest wimp” to hold the office. Far-right websites described Trump as caving.
The White House on Saturday tried to counter that image.
Asked during an appearance on Fox News whether the president had caved on the shutdown fight, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said, “One hundred percent no. He stood up for the American people. He reopened the government.”
Gidley said Trump had repeatedly asked for the sort of border funding that U.S. security officials said they needed, only to encounter intransigent Democrats in Congress.
“Democrats would not negotiate. They would not come to the table,” Gidley said. He predicted that some Democrats would be willing to cut a border-security deal in coming weeks that includes money for a wall, even as party leaders have said they have no intention of funding Trump’s border wall.
“The lesson I hope that the Democrats learn here is that they can’t just not negotiate. They can’t offer nothing and expect something to get done,” Gidley said, adding: “They weren’t doing anything on behalf of the American people. They used federal workers as pawns. Regardless of what they try and say and the tears that stream down their cheeks, they did nothing to protect the American people.”
Despite that argument, the shutdown’s end was widely seen in the capital and beyond as the president giving in, which played out in media coverage: The Washington Post described Trump’s “capitulation to Democrats” as “a humiliating low point in a polarizing presidency.” The New York Times depicted Trump as “backing down,” while the Wall Street Journal called Trump’s move “a retreat.”
Trump had fretted about the shutdown’s impact on the economy and his personal popularity. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday found that public disapproval of Trump had increased to 58 percent as most Americans held him and congressional Republicans responsible for the shutdown.
In recent days, Trump had sought to point fingers, blaming fellow Republicans and even his staff for failing to help him achieve his campaign promise to fund a border wall.
The man who had campaigned as a business savant and master dealmaker emerged from the unprecedented shutdown looking, above all, ineffective. It was that image that he and the White House seemed to be trying to avoid Saturday, insisting instead that the wall would still be built and that the president deserved praise for reopening the same government he had brazenly closed more than a month earlier.
For the 800,000 employees who have not been paid during the 35-day shutdown, that pain will not end immediately. It will likely take until late next week before they receive their payments, delays that will cause continued hardship for the employees who struggled to pay bills during the longest shutdown in history.