WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump expressed displeasure on Tuesday with a deal by congressional negotiators on border security spending that offered no funds for his promised U.S.-Mexican border wall, but did not reject it outright and indicated he did not expect another government shutdown.
Trump, who triggered a 35-day closure of about a quarter of the federal government with a December demand for $5.7 billion from Congress to help build the wall, said he has yet to decide whether to support the agreement reached on Monday night by key Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and a host of other agencies is due to expire on Friday under the stopgap spending measure passed last month by Congress to end the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history.
“I have to study it. I’m not happy about it,” Trump told reporters at the White House about the tentative funding deal, which would need to be passed by the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate and signed by him.
The tentative deal included border security provisions and money for the affected parts of the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
The Republican president sent mixed messages about another shutdown.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,” Trump said, but he added: “If you did have it, it’s the Democrats’ fault.”
Congressional Republicans have shown little appetite for another shutdown after taking heavy criticism over the prior one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on the Senate floor touting the agreement reached on Monday night left little doubt that the top Republican in Congress wants Trump to support it.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer was more direct, saying, “I strongly urge the president to sign this.”
Congressional sources said the agreement includes $1.37 billion for new fencing along 55 miles (90 km) of the southern border but only with currently used designs such as “steel bollard” fencing. It also addresses capacity at immigration detention facilities, specifically the number of beds for people awaiting possible deportation.
Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress does not provide money specifically for the wall, an action he might take to redirect other funds already provided by Congress to pay for wall construction instead. Fellow Republicans have told Trump such a step would almost certainly face a legal challenge.
On Tuesday, Trump made comments that seemed to fit with the idea of declaring an emergency.
“The bottom is on the wall: We’re building the wall,” Trump said, adding, “we’re supplementing things, and moving things around, and we’re doing things that are fantastic and taking, really, from far less important areas.”
Trump made the wall a central 2016 campaign promise, calling it necessary to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He said Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexican officials repeatedly rejected that. Democrats have called the project expensive, ineffective and immoral.
The tentative deal still requires congressional staff experts to write formal legislation, filling in details lacking in the broad outline agreed to late on Monday.
McConnell said he hopes his chamber can act on the legislation “in short order,” calling the agreement “certainly good news” and saying Democrats had abandoned “unreasonable” demands.
‘LOTS OF QUESTIONS’
Tom Graves, a House Republican who serves on the congressional conference committee that worked on the border security and other funding, raised questions about the compromise. Graves wrote on Twitter that he had not “signed off on the reported ‘deal’ nor have I seen it. Based on the reports, I have concerns. Lots of questions too.”
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will get this through,” Democrat Nita Lowey, who chairs the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, told CNN. “We cannot shut the government down.”
Lowey has said the legislation might be written by Wednesday, leaving little time for Congress to pass the measure by Friday’s midnight deadline. Lowey said the deal had the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.
The president retreated last month when he agreed to end the shutdown without getting money for a wall. The shutdown roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay.
Trump now will have to decide whether to side with conservative commentators who have the president’s ear such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, who late on Monday called the deal a “garbage compromise.”
While Democrats oppose the wall, they support border security efforts. The number of beds in detention facilities has been a contentious part of the negotiations because it can either constrain or expand the Trump administration’s ability to aggressively deport more immigrants, including those seeking asylum.
Congressional aides on Tuesday gave differing accounts on the number of beds the deal permitted, with some saying it would drop to 40,520 by later this year and others saying it could rise to 58,500. Democrats had sought to limit the number.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland in Washington and Roberta Rampton in El Paso, Texas; writing by Will Dunham; editing by Jonathan Oatis