US president Donald Trump brought the longest US government shutdown in history to an end on Friday – at least temporarily – as he agreed to a three-week programme to reopen the federal government.
The announcement marked a remarkable turnaround for the president who has repeatedly said that he would not reopen the government without $5.7 billion (€5bn) for his proposed border wall. The funding package he agreed to contains none of the money he requested for the wall. However, he said that a congressional committee would work over the next three weeks to come up with a bipartisan immigration package. He warned that if a “fair deal” did not emerge by February 15th he could invoke a national emergency and use his executive powers to secure border wall funding.
Mr Trump’s apparent change of heart unfolded as the impact of the government shutdown began to be felt at airports across the country. Key air travel hubs, including La Guardia airport in New York and Atlanta, Georgia, were forced to delay flights due to staffing problems.
Transport Security Authority (TSA) workers and air traffic controllers are among the estimated 800,000 people who are not being paid during the shutdown. In addition, up to a million contract workers have been affected by the partial government closure. Unlike permanent employees, they will not receive backpay.
Congress was expected to pass a series of appropriation Bills on Friday night with the Bills then moving to the White House for signing by the president.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, he said: “I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government.”
He said that a bipartisan committee of members of congress would be formed to consider border spending before the new deadline.
“They are willing to put partisanship aside, I think, and put the security of the American people first,” Mr Trump said. He asserted that “barrier or walls will be an important part of the solution”.
Overnight and into Friday, at least five Republican senators had reportedly been calling Mr Trump, urging him to reopen the government and have the senate consider his request for border wall money through regular legislation.
Mr Trump and the Democrats in Congress had remained at odds over his demand that any compromise include money for a border wall.
The stand-off became so severe that, as the senate opened with prayer, Chaplain Barry Black called on high powers in the “hour of national turmoil” to help senators do “what is right”.
Senators were talking with increased urgency after Thursday’s defeat of competing proposals from Mr Trump and the Democrats. The bipartisan talks provided a glimmer of hope that some agreement could be reached to halt the longest-ever closure of federal agencies, at least temporarily.
“There are discussions on the senate side,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday morning as she entered the capital.
Asked about Mr Trump’s demands for border security measures as part of a Bill temporarily reopening government, Ms Pelosi said: “One step at a time.”
Ms Pelosi was referring to a meeting on Thursday between senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer, to explore next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate.
Pressure has been building among both parties to reopen agencies immediately and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers. – Additional reporting: AP