Washington • Utah’s members of Congress praised a new deal clinched on Friday to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue on funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
President Donald Trump, caving to growing public pressure to end the longest shutdown in American history, said Friday afternoon he would agree to a temporary, stopgap budget bill that keeps the government running until Feb. 15, though he continued pressing hard for money to bolster security along the southern border.
The president also threatened that if Democrats didn’t budge on a border wall, he’d declare a national emergency, a move that experts say is legally dubious.
“We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then we’ll do a — obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is,” Trump told reporters. “It’s a national emergency.”
Whether Trump takes that step depends on what Congress can pass in the coming weeks. The Senate approved by voice vote a three-week budget plan for about a quarter of government agencies affected by the shutdown; the House followed suit Friday evening.
First-year Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, spun the president’s announcement as “basically calling the Democrats' bluff” in that Democrats said they wouldn’t negotiate on border wall funding unless the government was reopened.
“So the president said, ‘OK we’re gonna open the government; you’ve got three weeks to do a deal,’” Romney said in an interview. “And I mean I’m obviously very hopeful that a deal can be done. Clearly, ultimately, you know we’re going to get back to work, and we will have border security.”
Romney said that Trump's threat of a national emergency is leverage to get some funding before the budget deal ends.
“He’s signaling Democrats to get this job done or you probably could be facing an emergency order of some kind,” Romney said, noting that he would prefer a bipartisan solution that includes some wall funding and money for more technology along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“That’s the right way to get things done,” he said. “Not to have to act in an emergency way, which ultimately would involve the courts and delay. So let’s get it done the right way and not have to face a statutory action by the president.”
Romney voted Thursday for two bills that would have reopened the government, one backed by Trump and another by Democrats; both failed to gain enough votes. The latter, a three-week funding bill, essentially is the path forward Trump agreed to Friday.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who had voted against both Senate bills Thursday, said it was a relief that a deal was reached.
“But the shutdown was not created by the crisis on the border. It was created by the failure of Congress to do its job,” Lee said.
“The way we are doing this now is convenient for politicians but not for the American people,” he added. “Government funding and immigration policy shouldn’t be a secret negotiation but an open debate on the floors of the House and Senate. That’s the only way the American people can be included in this process.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said this is what he's been asking for since the shutdown began.
“The people of Utah have had enough of this shutdown and are ready to see us get back to work solving the country’s problems,” Curtis said in a statement. “I’m glad to see a solution brought forward to open the government and allow us to address critical border security needs.”
Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams, the only Democrat in Utah’s delegation, agreed that it’s time the closure ended and negotiations began in earnest.
“The shutdown, which has harmed Utah families, our national security and our economy, can now end and federal employees will resume getting paid and receive back pay,” McAdams said after supporting several Democratic attempts to reopen the government without wall funding. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves as a member of Congress and begin the bipartisan work of funding government operations, fully restoring public access to services, reforming our immigration system and returning to normal legislative business."
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said the new deal will allow negotiations without Americans being harmed by the shutdown.
“Now is the time to end the political theatrics and for the Democrats to join Republicans in offering serious border security proposals,” Stewart said. “The Democrats have said all along: 'Open the government, then we'll negotiate.' Now is the time for them to honor that promise."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, also praised the reopening of the government, though he noted it was only temporary.
“I am pleased workers will be paid. It’s about time,” Bishop said. “However, I can’t yet celebrate until we find a lasting solution, which includes a secure border. Now let’s do it.”