Donald Trump has signed legislation to end temporarily the longest-ever partial shutdown of the US government, which has left hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay for more than a month.
The US economy lost $6bn during the month-plus hiatus because of lost productivity and business, according to a finance industry estimate – more than the $5.7bn of taxpayer funding the president demanded for his long-promised wall along the US-Mexico border but failed to get Congress to agree to.
Trump signed the legislation on Friday. The decision marked a significant climbdown by the president. Less than 24 hours before he spoke in the White House Rose Garden, Trump demanded that any solution from Congress should include a “large down-payment” for his long-promised wall along the southern border.
On Friday, however, intensifying delays at airports across the north-east and fresh polling that revealed mounting public frustration provided new urgency for efforts to break the impasse.
“We have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said, despite there being no fresh offer from Democrats that could be termed a “deal”.
But he reminded Americans he had a “powerful alternative”, threatening to declare a national emergency if a deal for wall funding is not reached before the next deadline to fund the government.
“Let me be very clear,” Trump said, “we really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier. If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on 15 February again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the law and the constitution of the US to address this emergency.”
The Senate unanimously passed a funding bill on Friday afternoon. It then went to the House, where it was unanimously approved.
The measure will re-open federal agencies for three weeks without providing any funding for the wall, Trump’s signature campaign promise. It will enable nearly 800,000 employees have been furloughed or forced to work without pay to return to their jobs and to receive delayed payment.
As part of the agreement, Congress will convene a bipartisan committee to debate funding for border security before 15 February.
The shutdown was not only the longest but by far the most expensive in US history. Analysis by credit rating company S&P Global Ratings showed that the lengthy pause in federal government function under Trump cost $6bn in decreased productivity because of lay-offs and economic activity lost to outside business.
“Although this shutdown has ended, little agreement on Capitol Hill will likely weigh on business confidence and financial market sentiments,” S&P said in a statement.
The agreement to reopen the government is consistent with Democrats’ negotiating position: that Trump should re-open the government before any new border security measures are agreed.
“Hopefully it means a lesson learned for the White House,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said at a joint press conference with House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “For many of our Republican colleagues, shutting down the government over a policy difference is self-defeating. It accomplishes nothing but pain and suffering for the country and incurs an enormous political cost to the party shutting it down.”
Schumer praised Pelosi’s leadership throughout the month-long saga that consumed the first several weeks of her Speakership.
“No one should ever underestimate the speaker,” Schumer said, “as Donald Trump has learned.”
As the shutdown went on, Pelosi rescinded the annual invitation for the president to deliver the State of the Union address in the House of Representatives chamber, a move believed to be without precedent. The speech was scheduled for 29 January but Pelosi said the decades-old tradition would only take place after the government reopened. Trump toyed with the idea of delivering it in another location but then unexpectedly consented to her request without further fight.
Pelosi told reporters there were no immediate plans to reschedule the speech.
She applauded Democrats in both chambers for remaining unified, even as many freshmen from moderate and conservative districts weathered accusations that they did not support border security.
“It is very clear that we all understand the importance of securing our borders,” Pelosi said. “We have some very good ideas on how to do that.”
Later on Friday, Trump argued that he had not backed down in the feud over wall funding, claiming the agreement “was in no way a concession”, despite criticism from the right that he had displayed weakness and certainty from elsewhere that he had caved in.
A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers has now called for banning shutdowns.
“The final package should also end government shutdowns once and for all,” said senator Chuck Grassley, an IowaRepublican.
As the impact of the shutdown rippled across the economy, union leaders warned that thousands of federal employees were taking on part-time jobs and turning to charity and food banks. On Friday, employees missed a second paycheck. The same morning, federal aviation officials temporarily restricted flights in and out of New York LaGuardia, causing significant delays at Newark and Philadelphia airports.