After three weeks of pained negotiations to keep the federal government open, President Trump almost blew the whole thing up again on Thursday.
Headed for another defeat on his signature promise to make Mexico pay for a southern border wall, the president was frustrated after a briefing by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others on details of the final deal to avoid a shutdown, according to officials involved in the discussions. Trump threatened not to sign the legislation, the officials said, putting the government on the brink of another damaging shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was on the phone with Trump at least three times during the course of the nerve-racking day, pressing him to stay the course and asserting that Democrats had actually lost the spending fight, two people familiar with the conversations said.
“We thought he was good to go all morning, and then suddenly it’s like everything is off the rails,” said one senior Republican aide.
By midafternoon, however, Trump was back on board — agreeing to sign the legislation with the caveat that he would also declare a national emergency in an attempt to use existing government funds to pay for wall construction. It was an option that Republican leaders had urged him to avoid but eventually accepted as necessary to escape the corner in which Trump — and his party — were trapped. McConnell promised Trump he would encourage others to support the emergency in a bid to get the president to sign, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Trump refused to sign the bill Thursday until the White House Counsel’s Office convinced him it would not preclude him from declaring a national emergency, two senior administration officials said. The president is expected to declare the emergency and sign the bill Friday morning, a senior White House official said.
Though White House officials insisted Thursday that Trump was acting in a defiant and assertive way, few Republicans, including the president’s closest allies, were pleased with the ending: $1.375 billion for fencing and other expenditures, plus an emergency gambit that many conservatives view as an executive overreach.