President Donald Trump said Friday, January 25th that he would agree to temporarily reopen the federal government for three weeks after a 35-day shutdown—a historic closure begun by his demand for a border wall, which Congressional Democrats, empowered in the midterms, have roundly rejected. With the president’s assent, both houses of Congress are expected to imminently pass spending bills, and Trump said the measures would guarantee backpay for affected workers.
After five weeks, the president’s reversal amounted to a concession to the Democrats’ stated position throughout: End the shutdown, which affects nine federal agencies and some 800,000 employees, while continuing to negotiate about the specific issue of border security.
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has said Trump’s insistence on a wall with Mexico amounted to “holding Americans hostage.” She called such a wall “immoral” and “ineffective.” The president contends a barrier is needed to stave off a “crisis” of drugs, violence, and human trafficking.
Democrats, however, have said they will work with the president and Republicans to hash out broad funding for other border security measures—a compromise Trump accepted Friday while making an oblique reference to his ability to declare a “national emergency” if needed in the future to try and fund a wall without congressional approval. Trump said that during the three weeks the government is reopened, until February 15th, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers will meet with homeland security experts to put together a bill funding new measures including, he hoped, a wall.
For a month he has insisted on just such a barrier, which was a signature issue during his campaign. Ever bold, Trump vowed earlier this month the shutdown could last months, a year, or even longer if he did not get his way. On Friday, despite his concession in allowing the government to reopen without the guarantee of a wall, he said he was not backing down from it as a key proposal. Without agreement, the country will merely repeat the entire shutdown.
Last weekend, amid mounting pressure from those squeezed by the funding freeze, Trump announced his own possible compromise, which Congress quickly dismissed. He proposed: if given $5.7 billion for a wall and other measures, he would in exchange temporarily extend some immigration reforms he had dismantled (which was seen as as Democratic priority).
Trump’s announcement moving to end the shutdown without wall funding in place, made in the Rose Garden at the White House, falls on what would have been the second Friday without paychecks going out for government workers. Some 800,000 federal employees and many more contractors have been without pay since the shutdown began on December 22nd.
Single mom Kristie Scarazzo, a botanist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was one of the hundreds of thousands stranded. She spoke with PEOPLE last week in tears, scrambling for options as the weeks passed without money. “I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said. “I don’t even have my wedding ring to sell.”