For a president who believes in zero-sum politics and considers compromise a sign of weakness, it was a bruising setback, a retreat that underscored the limits of his ability to bull his way through the opposition in this new era of divided government. As it turned out, the art of the deal at this stage of Mr. Trump’s presidency requires a different approach and the question is whether he can adjust.
By any measure, it was an unequivocal loss,” said Patrick J. Griffin, who was the White House legislative director for President Bill Clinton during the government shutdowns of the 1990s. “No interpretation is needed. No wall and probably lost votes rather than gain or strengthen his base.”
[Some conservatives accused President Trump of folding on a central promise.]
The next three weeks will test whether Mr. Trump can rebound as he faces a new deadline to come up with an agreement. If he can find common ground with Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer while making progress on his wall, he may yet emerge from this searing ordeal claiming a political victory.
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If not, however, he may discover his disgruntled fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill less willing to go along with a renewed government shutdown, forcing him to decide whether to provoke a constitutional clash by declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress altogether and build the wall without legislative approval.
White House officials argue that there are more moderate House Democrats who are willing to support a wall even though Ms. Pelosi has called the project “immoral” and opposed spending even a single dollar on it. In the days to come, they hope to either peel off those Democrats and force Ms. Pelosi to meet somewhere in the middle or to drive a wedge among Democrats highlighting their own divisions.
“Moving forward for the next three weeks, have the Democrats boxed themselves into a corner with zero for wall funding that makes them look weak on border security?” asked Marc Short, who was Mr. Trump’s White House legislative director earlier in his presidency. “Will the White House be able to work around Pelosi to gain enough Democrat support for some wall funding?
After watching Ms. Pelosi this week disinvite Mr. Trump from delivering the State of the Union address while the government remained closed, Mr. McConnell concluded that she would never cave and decided to come off the sidelines to try to end the standoff. He scheduled votes for Thursday on two plans to end the stalemate, one on Mr. Trump’s terms and another Democratic version, mainly to demonstrate to the president that he did not have enough support to prevail.
After both bills failed to muster the 60 votes
required for passage on Thursday, Mr. Trump was fed up and ready to get it over with, according to advisers. He was eager to get the dispute resolved at least temporarily so he could deliver his State of the Union address. He told Vice President Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, to give him options.
They came back with four ways to reopen the government: a three-week spending bill that included a prorated portion of money as a down payment on the border wall pending further negotiations; a “clean” short-term spending bill that included no such money; a clean short-term bill with a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee to negotiate border security; or a declaration of national emergency that Mr. Trump would use to move money on his own while resuming government operations for the rest of the fiscal year.
Mr. McConnell met with Mr. Schumer and raised the idea of a down payment, but the Democrat rejected it. Mr. Schumer then suggested a short-term spending bill with a conference committee to negotiate. Mr. McConnell let the White House know that Mr. Schumer would sign onto that.
As late as Friday morning, though, Mr. Trump appeared set to make an emergency declaration. But when he spoke with Mr. McConnell again, the senator and Mr. Kushner argued against it. Mr. Trump backed off and agreed to the short-term reopening without wall money, telling aides that he knew it would result in a bad news cycle for several days, but that it was the right thing to do and would eventually yield a long-term victory.
His resolve to change the subject was fortified as he watched television on Friday morning to see his associate Roger J. Stone Jr. marched off to courtby heavily armed F.B.I. agents arresting him in connection with the special counsel’s Russia investigation. The “icing on the cake,” as one official put it, were reports about air traffic out of La Guardia Airport in the president’s hometown and elsewhere in the region slowing because of the government shutdown.
The president scheduled an announcement, and the scene in the Rose Garden was surreal. Cabinet officers and White House aides lined up and applauded when the president emerged from the Oval Office as if he were declaring victory in his confrontation with Democrats in Congress. And the president sounded as if he was doing just that, opening his remarks by saying that he was “very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown.”