US President Donald Trump on Wednesday edged toward backing a deal in Congress on funding for a barrier on the Mexican border, but left open the possibility that disputes over the wall could still cause a partial government shutdown by the weekend.
Trump, widely blamed for a record-long 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.
But the Republican president fell short of committing himself to backing the congressional deal, which would keep the government open but not give Trump the $5.7bn he seeks for the wall.
“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. People realised how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is, and I think a lot of good points were made,” Trump told reporters.
Congress, which faces a tight deadline to pass legislation to avert another US government shutdown, is considering a compromise measure that does not deliver all the funds Trump had demanded to build the wall.
Although Democrats have vowed to block Trump’s original request for $5.7bn for a wall, which they call immoral and ineffective, they have expressed their willingness to sign off on a deal that includes funding for more “barriers”.
On Tuesday, the Republican president said he was not happy with the deal and he did not rule out a possible veto of the legislation.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives could vote as soon as Wednesday evening, a senior aide said, despite not yet having produced a written copy of the agreement reached by congressional negotiators on Monday night.
The accord must also be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and signed by Trump by the midnight Friday expiration of a stopgap measure that ended the longest federal shutdown in US history.
The measure’s fate in the House was far from certain given the risk that conservatives and liberals will oppose the compromise for different reasons.
Congressional sources told Reuters news agency, the deal includes $1.37bn for new border fencing, about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90km) of the border – but not the $5.7bn Trump has demanded to help build his promised border wall.
Senior congressional Republicans, showing little appetite for another shutdown after being heavily criticised for the previous one, urged Trump to support the agreement.
“I think the president will sign it. I think he will do so reluctantly, and then, obviously, have to use executive actions to secure our borders,” US Representative Mark Meadows, head of the Republicans’ conservative caucus in the House, told reporters on Tuesday.
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
“There are some positives in this bill, but it’s certainly not enough,” Sanders said in an interview with Fox News Channel.
“The president and his team have been looking at every option possible to get the full funding they need in order to complete the wall.”
Trump surprised politicians when he withdrew support for a previous deal in December and demanded $5.7bn in wall funding, which was opposed by Democrats in Congress.
That triggered a 35-day shutdown of about a fourth of the federal government. Some 800,000 federal workers were furloughed or required to work without pay. Several polls at the time suggested most Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown.
The president previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall.
Such a move would allow Trump to skirt congressional approval, but would almost certainly draw opposition in Congress and in the courts.
Trump made the wall a central 2016 campaign promise, calling it necessary to combat irregular immigration and drug trafficking.
He said Mexico would pay for it, a demand Mexican officials reject.