By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Nicholas Fandos and Peter Baker
New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump agreed Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations proceeded over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border, backing down after a monthlong standoff failed to force Democrats to give him billions of dollars for his long-promised wall.
The decision paved the way for Congress to pass spending bills as soon as Friday that Trump will sign to restore normal operations at a series of federal agencies until Feb. 15 and begin paying again the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or forced to work for free for 35 days.
The plan includes none of the money for the wall he had demanded and was essentially the same approach Trump rejected at the end of December. But if Republicans and Democrats cannot reach agreement on wall money by the February deadline, he indicated he was ready to renew the confrontation or declare a national emergency and bypass Congress altogether.
“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”
The cease-fire could pave the way for Trump to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress after all, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly clarified it would not be held Tuesday as originally scheduled. She had rescinded her invitation earlier this week to come to the House chamber until the government was reopened, and Friday, the speaker said she would work with Trump to find a new date.
“The State of the Union is not planned now,” Pelosi said. “When government is open we will discuss a mutually agreeable date.”
With polls showing the president enduring most of the blame by the public, Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, pressured Trump to agree to the temporary cease-fire. Over the next three weeks, a House-Senate conference committee representing both parties will negotiate a border security plan, but if it fails to reach a consensus, government agencies could close again.
Trump promised to ensure workers will be compensated for the paychecks they have missed since the shutdown began in late December.