By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday edged toward backing a deal in Congress on government funding that would not meet his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall on the Mexican border but would avert a partial government shutdown.
Trump, widely blamed for a five-week shutdown that ended in January, said he did not want to see federal agencies close again because of fighting over funds for the wall, one of his signature campaign promises in the 2016 election.
The Republican president did not commit himself to backing the government funding agreement struck between Democratic and Republican lawmakers this week. But two sources and a Republican senator close to the White House said he would likely sign off on it.
“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing. I think a point was made with the last shutdown,” Trump told reporters. “People realized how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is, and I think a lot of good points were made.”
Trump said he would hold off on a decision until he sees actual legislation about the issue. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was “inclined to take the deal and move on.”
Graham told reporters that Trump would then look elsewhere to find more money to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and was “very inclined” to declare a national emergency to secure the funds.
With a Friday night deadline looming before a shutdown, there is little time for the White House and the political parties in Congress to agree on funding.
Funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.
The congressional agreement reached on Monday falls far short of giving Trump all the money he wants to help build the wall. Instead, congressional sources say, it includes $1.37 billion for new barriers – about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border.
Details of the legislation were still being written, but the full bill could be made public as early as Wednesday evening, according to lawmakers and congressional aides.
The accord must be passed by the House of Representatives, dominated by Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Senate, then signed by Trump by midnight on Friday to prevent a shutdown.
The measure’s fate in the House was far from certain given the risk that some conservatives and liberals will oppose the compromise for different reasons.
Like Trump, congressional Republicans have little appetite for a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown in December and January – the longest in U.S. history – which closed about a quarter of federal agencies and left some 800,000 federal workers without pay.
“It’s time to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, in reference to voting on the compromise.
Democrats in the House are aiming to schedule a vote on Thursday evening, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters. If passed, it would then go to the Senate.
A White House spokeswoman, Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN that lawyers were reviewing the administration’s options should Congress not provide Trump’s demanded money for the wall.
The Washington Post, citing a White House official, said Trump was likely to explore using his executive power to reallocate other federal funds for barrier projects along the southern border. CNN, citing the White House, also said Trump was weighing the use of an executive order, among other options.
Trump previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall – a move that would almost certainly draw opposition in Congress and in the courts.
“We think the president would be on very weak legal ground to proceed,” said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Speaking to sheriffs and police chiefs of major cities, Trump said later on Wednesday that he was determined to “fully and completely” secure the U.S. border, including providing more law enforcement, closing legal loopholes and finishing the border wall.
Trump has come in for criticism from the right for wavering on support for the wall, which the administration says will cut illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
“Trump talks a good game on the border wall, but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” right-wing commentator Ann Coulter tweeted on Tuesday.
Trump abandoned a planned compromise on funding for the wall in December after similar criticism.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)