By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump left his options open on Wednesday over whether to sign a funding deal that would avert another partial government shutdown but leave him short of the money he wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
The Republican president said earlier this week he is not happy with a compromise thrashed out in Congress and has not ruled out a possible veto of the legislation.
But a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday that Trump would likely back the bipartisan deal, even if it only gives him $1.37 billion for border fencing rather than the $5.7 billion he is seeking to help build the wall.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration was waiting until it is clear exactly what lawmakers are proposing.
“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. “It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”
Another 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, a signature campaign promise in his 2016 election win.
With a Friday night deadline looming before government agencies begin closing for lack of funding, senior congressional Republicans have urged Trump to back the deal.
They 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 the federal agencies and left some 800,000 federal workers without pay.
But Trump has come in for criticism from the right for wavering on support for the border 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.
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.
The president 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.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. 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 midnight on Friday to prevent a shutdown.
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 said the deal includes $1.37 billion for new border fencing, about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border – but not the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for the wall.
Democrats say Trump’s planned wall would be expensive, ineffective and immoral.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)