Congress sets border talks as Trump threatens unilateral action on wall

While President Donald Trump backtracked on Friday to end a controversial five week partial government shutdown, Congressional leaders kick started work on a border security funding agreement, even as the White House threatened to use a national emergency declaration if no border wall money is approved by a February 15 funding deadline.

"We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier," the President said Friday in remarks from the White House Rose Garden, as he announced the deal to fund the government for three weeks.

"If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency," the President added.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that option in a tweet posted later on Friday night, sending a clear signal that if House-Senate negotiators don't give the President money for a border wall, then he will likely act to declare a national emergency - and try to move money around in the federal budget to fund the wall unilaterally.

Some more conservative GOP voices in the Congress seemed ready to sign on to that option.

"If Democrats refuse to work with us to tackle this national priority over the next few weeks, President Trump will do what is necessary to protect America," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), a key Senate ally of the President.

"Compromise is important, but not required, to secure our border and protect American families," added Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), maybe the closest Trump ally in the House.

The decision by Mr. Trump to allow the government to be funded capped five weeks of turmoil for 800,000 federal workers, as they missed a second paycheck on Friday, and will likely have to wait well into next week to receive their back pay.

After watching some of the news coverage about his latest moves, President Trump did not seem pleased.

"This in no way was a concession," the President tweeted Friday night, even as he did what Democrats wanted.

The statements of the President and the White House presented negotiators with an ultimatum of sorts, even before they began their work on border security funding.

"The President has agreed to our request to open the government and then debate border security," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, as President Trump agreed to do exactly what Democrats had been calling for as a way to end a 35 day partial government shutdown.

"I hope over the next three weeks we can bridge our differences with a common goal to protect our country and end the humanitarian crisis, while keeping government open," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), one of the House GOP negotiators.

Many Democrats alternated between mocking Mr. Trump and condemning his actions, arguing he had needlessly put thousands of federal workers through financial stress and strain with the shutdown - only to finally back off his demand that the government would not be funded until Congress approved money for his border wall.

"No one should applaud his recent actions - he created the crisis," said Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA).

"Americans don't care whether or not you call your speech a concession," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). "No President should ever threaten to hurt, or actually hurt, Americans as a negotiating tactic."

"Holding federal employees’ livelihoods hostage in order to get Congress to meet an unreasonable border policy demand was always a bad idea," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

More moderate Republicans also said the shutdown should not have been an option for the President.

"Ultimately, this shutdown never should have happened," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

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