Trump border wall prototypes torn down to make way for new barrier

FILE PHOTO: The prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall are seen behind the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

(Reuters) – The prototypes for President Donald Trump’s contest for a border wall near San Diego, California, were torn down on Wednesday, to make way for a new section of actual border fencing.

To the president’s supporters, the eight 30-foot-high (9-meter) models were a symbol of his commitment to build a wall along the length of the U.S. Mexico border to enhance national security. To opponents, they were a waste of taxpayer money and an affront to Mexico and immigrants.

“Since the test and evaluation of these prototype models is complete, they have served their purpose and are now being removed,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman Ralph DeSio said in a statement.

Using jackhammers, ladders and blow torches, military special forces and CBP special units spent weeks trying to go under, over and through the walls to test their strengths and weaknesses.

The tests of the eight prototypes, which Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Michael Scappechio of the San Diego sector said cost between $300,000 and $500,000 each to build, showed the effectiveness of the kind of steel post, or “bollard,” fence that already exists along large sections of the border.

Now, a new 30-foot-high bollard fence is being built as a secondary barrier along a 14-mile (22.5 km) section, behind an existing, 18-feet-high bollard fence, Scappechio said.

The ability of agents to see through a barrier is crucial to their safety, and a fence made out of steel posts or “bollards” is easier to repair when breached and relatively cost-effective, he said, while the 30-foot height is a deterrent to climbers.

The fence will also incorporate fiber optic sensor, Scappechio said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)

Trump says he’ll declare emergency on U.S.-Mexico border

A U.S. Border Patrol agent listens from the front row as President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border during remarks about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Roberta Rampton and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday announced he would declare a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, a move Democrats vowed to challenge as an unconstitutional attempt to fund his promised border wall without approval from Congress.

“I’m going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said from the Rose Garden of the White House.

“We have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

The president said he would sign the authorizing paperwork later in the day in the Oval Office.

Trump was also expected on Friday to sign a bipartisan government spending bill approved by Congress on Thursday that would prevent another partial federal government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday morning.

The bill, which contains no money for his wall, is a defeat for Trump in Congress, where his demand for $5.7 billion in barrier funding yielded no results, other than a record-long, 35-day December-January partial government shutdown that damaged the U.S. economy and his opinion poll numbers.

Reorienting his wall-funding quest toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency could plunge Trump into a lengthy battle with Democrats – and divide his fellow Republicans.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent the transfer of funds from accounts Trump likely would target to pay for his wall.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.

“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

The president acknowledged that his order would face a lengthy legal challenge. “We’ll win in the Supreme Court,” Trump said.

Trump has argued the wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs streaming across the southern border despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments are likely smuggled through legal ports of entry.

At Friday’s White House event, a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants preceded Trump into the Rose Garden. He cited their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund and $3.5 billion from a military construction budget.

Trump on Friday estimated the order could free up as much as $8 billion to construct the wall.

The funds would cover just part of the estimated $23 billion cost of the wall promised by Trump along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico.

The Senate Democrats’ bill also would stop Trump from using appropriated money to acquire lands to build the wall unless specifically authorized by Congress.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton Morgan; additional reporting by David Morgan, Steve Holland, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice and Eric Beech; Writing by James Oliphant, Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Congress advances border security bill without Trump border wall

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday aimed to end a dispute over border security with legislation that would ignore President Donald Trump’s request for $5.7 billion (£4.45 billion) to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border but avoid a partial government shutdown.

Late on Wednesday, negotiators put the finishing touches on legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, along with a range of other federal agencies.

Racing against a Friday midnight deadline, when operating funds expire for the agencies that employ about 800,000 workers at the DHS, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and others, the Senate and House of Representatives aimed to pass the legislation later on Thursday.

That would give Trump time to review the measure and sign it into law before temporary funding for about one-quarter of the government expires.

Failure to do so would shutter many government programs, from national parks maintenance and air traffic controller training programs to the collection and publication of important data for financial markets, for the second time this year.

“This agreement denies funding for President Trump’s border wall and includes several key measures to make our immigration system more humane,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, said in a statement.

According to congressional aides, the final version of legislation would give the Trump administration $1.37 billion in new money to help build 55 miles (88.5 km) of new physical barriers on the southwest border, far less than what Trump had been demanding.

It is the same level of funding Congress appropriated for border security measures last year, including barriers but not concrete walls.

Since he ran for office in 2016, Trump has been demanding billions of dollars to build a wall on the southwest border, saying “crisis” conditions required a quick response to stop the flow of illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants, largely from Central America.

He originally said Mexico would pay for a 2,000-mile (3,200-km) concrete wall – an idea that Mexico dismissed.

Trump has not yet said whether he would sign the legislation into law if the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-led Senate approve it, even as many of his fellow Republicans in Congress were urging him to do so.

Instead, he said on Wednesday he would hold off on a decision until he examines the final version of legislation.

But 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.

Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican negotiator who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Twitter post he spoke to Trump later on Wednesday and he was in good spirits. Shelby told Trump the agreement was “a downpayment on his border wall.”

‘NATIONAL EMERGENCY’

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is in regular contact with the White House, said Trump was “inclined to take the deal and move on.”

But Graham also told reporters that Trump would then look elsewhere to find more money to build a border wall and was “very inclined” to declare a national emergency to secure the funds for the project.

Such a move likely would spark a court battle, as it is Congress and not the president that mainly decides how federal funds get spent. Several leading Republicans have cautioned Trump against taking the unilateral action.

Under the bill, the government could hire 75 new immigrant judge teams to help reduce a huge backlog in cases and hundreds of additional border patrol agents.

Hoping to reduce violence and economic distress in Central America that fuels immigrant asylum cases in the United States, the bill also provides $527 million to continue humanitarian assistance to those countries.

The House Appropriations Committee said the bill would set a path for reducing immigrant detention beds to about 40,520 by the end of the fiscal year, down from a current count of approximately 49,060.

Democrats sought reductions, arguing that would force federal agents to focus on apprehending violent criminals and repeat offenders and discourage arrests of undocumented immigrants for minor traffic violations, for example.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which is run by Republicans, said there were provisions in the bill that could result in an increase in detention beds from last year.

Lowey said the bill would improve medical care and housing of immigrant families in detention and expand a program providing alternatives to detention.

The wide-ranging bill also contains some important domestic initiatives, including a $1.2 billion increase in infrastructure investments for roads, bridges and other ground transport, as well as more for port improvements.

With the 2020 decennial census nearing, the bill provides a $1 billion increase for the nationwide count. Also, federal workers, battered by the record 35-day partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 as Trump held out for wall funding, would get a 1.9 percent pay increase if the bill becomes law.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Robert Birsel and Chizu Nomiyama)

White House says Trump undecided on deal to avert another shutdown

President Donald Trump has not yet decided whether to back a deal hammered out by congressional negotiators to avert another partial government shutdown, the White House said on Tuesday, putting the future of the agreement that contains funds for U.S.-Mexican border security but not his promised wall in doubt.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has not yet decided whether to back a deal hammered out by congressional negotiators to avert another partial government shutdown, the White House said on Tuesday, putting the future of the agreement that contains funds for U.S.-Mexican border security but not his promised wall in doubt.

Democratic and Republican negotiators reached the tentative deal on Monday night on border security provisions and money to keep several government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security funded through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Temporary funding for about a quarter of the government is due to expire on Friday.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we will get this through,” Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, who chairs the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, told CNN. “We cannot shut the government down.”

Asked if the Republican president had signaled support for the bipartisan deal, Lowey did not answer directly, but said it had the backing of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, who control the chamber.

Trump, who triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown with his December demand for $5.7 billion to help build the border wall, has not yet made up his mind on the deal, said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“No decision has been made,” the official said.

Republican Senator Richard Shelby on Monday said the House-Senate committee set up last month at the end of the previous shutdown had an agreement in principle to pay for border security programs.

A final agreement is expected by late on Wednesday. The funding legislation would need to be passed in the House and Senate and signed by Trump.

Trump last month agreed to end the shutdown without getting money for a wall, which is opposed by Democrats. The shutdown roiled financial markets and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors without pay.

Trump’s long-promised wall was a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. He had said it would be paid for by Mexico and not by U.S. taxpayers.

Congressional sources said the agreement includes $1.37 billion for new fencing along 55 miles (90 km) of the southern border but only with currently used designs, such as “steel bollard” fencing. It will also address immigrant detention beds.

Trump will have to decide whether to sign the measure into law given its backing from congressional Republicans, or side with conservative commentators who have the president’s ear such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, who late on Monday called it a “garbage compromise.” Democrats oppose the wall but support border security efforts.

Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress does not give him wall money.

“Just so you know – we’re building the wall anyway,” Trump said at a rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas, shortly after the deal was reached. “Maybe progress has been made – maybe not.”

Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from Texas considering a 2020 White House run, accused Trump at a counter-rally nearby of stoking “false fear” about immigrants and telling “lies” about O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso.

Without new funds, federal agencies would again have to suspend some activities this weekend, ranging from maintenance of national parks to the publishing of important economic data.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland in Washington and Roberta Rampton in El Paso, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)

Talks collapse on border deal as U.S. government shutdown looms

FILE PHOTO: Construction fencing surrounds part of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S. November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Talks on border security funding collapsed after Democratic and Republican lawmakers clashed over immigrant detention policy as they worked to avert another U.S. government shutdown, a Republican senator said on Sunday.

“The talks are stalled right now,” Republican Senator Richard Shelby told “Fox News Sunday.” He said the impasse was over Democrats’ desire to cap the number of beds in detention facilities for people who enter the country illegally.

Efforts to resolve the dispute over border security funding extended into the weekend as a special congressional negotiating panel aimed to reach a deal by Monday, lawmakers and aides said.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester played down any breakdown in talks. “It is a negotiation. Negotiations seldom go smooth all the way through,” he told the Fox program. Tester, one of 17 negotiators, said he was hopeful a deal could be reached.

But Shelby put the chances of reaching a deal by Monday at 50-50. No further talks were scheduled, a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The lawmakers hoped to have an agreement by Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and get signed by President Donald Trump by Friday when funding for the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies expires.

Trump agreed on Jan. 25 to end a 35-day partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a wall along the border with Mexico, handing a political victory to Democrats.

Instead, a three-week spending deal was reached with congressional leaders to give lawmakers time to resolve their disagreements about how to address security along the border.

One sticking point has been the Democrats’ demand for funding fewer detention beds for people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Republicans want to increase the number as part of their drive to speed immigrant deportations.

Since he ran for president in 2016, Trump has pledged to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants by building a wall on the border and crack down on immigrants living in the United States illegally by aggressively conducting more deportations.

‘DESPERATELY NEEDED’

Democrats proposed lowering the cap on detention beds to 35,520 from the current 40,520 in return for giving Republicans some of the money they want for physical barriers, the source familiar with negotiations said.

But Democrats would create a limit within that cap of 16,500 beds at detention facilities for undocumented immigrants apprehended in the interior of the country. The remainder would be at border detention centers.

By having the interior cap, ICE agents would be forced to focus on arresting and deporting serious criminals, not law-abiding immigrants, a House Democratic aide said on Sunday.

Republicans balked at the Democrats’ sub-cap offer, the source said.

Trump weighed in Sunday, saying the Democratic proposal would protect felons. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” Trump said on Twitter.

“Claims that this proposal would allow violent criminals to be released are false,” the Democratic aide said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is close to Trump, warned against limiting beds. “Donald Trump is not going to sign any legislation that reduces the bed spaces. You can take that to the bank,” he said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Lawmakers working on a border deal also have not yet nailed down the amount of money to go for physical barriers along the southern U.S. border, the source said.

While a growing number of Republicans in Congress have made it clear they would not embrace another shutdown, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said he could not rule it out.

“You absolutely cannot,” Mulvaney, who is also Trump’s acting chief of staff, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Is a shutdown entirely off the table? The answer is no.”

Lawmakers, however, were working to avoid it.

On Friday, some of the negotiators said that if Congress could not pass a border security bill by Friday, they would move to pass another stop-gap funding bill to avert a shutdown and allow more time to reach a border deal.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, Howard Schneider; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Top U.S. lawmakers to resume border talks, avert shutdown

The personalized gavel of House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), serving as the Chairwoman of a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers from both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, is seen at the start of their first public negotiating session over the U.S. federal government shutdown and border security on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top four Democratic and Republican negotiators in the U.S. Congress on border security funding plan to meet on Monday in an attempt to reach a deal that would avert another partial government shutdown by a Friday deadline.

House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, and two other senior lawmakers will attend the meeting, according to a congressional aide.

Negotiations broke down during the weekend over funding for immigrant detention beds and physical barriers that would be funded along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawmakers hope to reach an agreement on Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House and Senate and get signed by Republican President Donald Trump by Friday, when funding for the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies expires.

Trump agreed on Jan. 25 to end a 35-day partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a long-promised wall along the border with Mexico. Democrats oppose a wall, calling it ineffective, expensive and immoral.

Instead, a three-week spending deal was reached with congressional leaders to give lawmakers time to resolve their disagreements about how to address border security.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Will Dunham)

Congress negotiators struggle to reach border security deal

FILE PHOTO: Construction on the border wall with Mexico (top) is shown in New Mexico near Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S. June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time remaining, congressional negotiators on U.S. border security funding have not settled the hot-button issues they hope to resolve, as some liberal Democrats potentially complicated their work by pressing for cuts in homeland security spending.

Congressional aides on Monday said that while constructive negotiations were held by staffers over the past weekend, it is now up to the lawmakers themselves to tackle the thorniest disagreements before a Feb. 15 deadline.

Seventeen Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives are tasked with finding a compromise border security deal with the allocation of Department of Homeland Security funds through Sept. 30.

The toughest unresolved disputes include the type of new physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, if any, as President Donald Trump demands $5.7 billion for a wall that most Democrats and many Republicans oppose as wasteful and ineffective.

Other difficult questions, according to the aides, including whether to increase or cut funds for immigrant detention beds and the numbers of immigration law-enforcement agents and immigration judges.

Democrats had been backing legislation providing up to $1.6 billion for additional fencing on some parts of the southwestern border, far below Trump’s request for a wall that he originally envisioned as a 2,000 mile (3,200 km) concrete barrier.

But new fencing money was not included in an initial proposal Democrats sketched out last week, which did, however, call for a $589 million increase in DHS’s budget.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters she agreed with sentiments expressed in a letter circulated by four members of that group, which seeks Department of Homeland Security funding cuts.

Dated Jan. 29, the letter said the Trump administration had “abused their authority and the fidelity of public resources,” with initiatives that included separating immigrant children from their families. One of the signatories was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, part of a new crop of Democrats swept into office this year on a strong liberal platform.

Trump has argued that additional DHS funding was necessary to stop illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants, touting a massive wall as the linchpin.

He has threatened to either let several federal agencies shut down for the second time this year if no deal is reached, or declare a “national emergency” that he says would allow him to build the wall with already-appropriated funds not necessarily related directly to border security.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Trump says may declare an emergency for wall as little headway in talks

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting to "discuss fighting human trafficking on the southern border" in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he might declare a national emergency to obtain funding to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico because it did not appear Democrats were moving toward a deal that would provide the money.

“We’re not getting anywhere with them,” Trump said during an event at the White House.

“I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have to do that,” he added, referring to the possibility of an emergency declaration that could allow him to use funds that Congress has approved for other purposes.

His comments came a day after Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters, “There’s not going to be any wall money” in legislation to fund border security for the rest of this year.

Pelosi said funding for more ports of entry or additional border security technology was open for negotiation. She added that the 17 House and Senate negotiators working on legislation to fund homeland security for the year should decide the components of the nation’s border security.

Democratic negotiators unveiled a detailed opening position containing no money for any type of additional physical barriers on the border to control the flow of undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs. Previously they had supported $1.3 billion for new fencing and improvements to existing barriers.

Trump has said he has to have a wall for border security.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Trump to lawmakers: Don’t waste your time, deal needs wall

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time to craft a deal over funding security operations on the U.S.-Mexico border, a bipartisan group of lawmakers was to meet in a public work-session on Wednesday even as President Donald Trump maintained a hard line on constructing a massive wall.

Congressional negotiators are up against a Feb. 15 deadline for agreeing on funding through Sept. 30 for several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and its border operations.

Realistically, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have about a week to settle differences and still give the full House of Representatives and Senate time to debate and vote on any deal.

A 35-day partial shutdown of agencies was triggered on Dec. 22 when Trump refused to sign funding bills that did not contain $5.7 billion for a wall along the southwestern U.S. border.

Faced with steadfast opposition in the Democratic-majority House, Trump relented on Friday, agreeing to re-open federal agencies temporarily without his $5.7 billion request. In return, Congress agreed to a special panel to negotiate a border security deal.

Trump has threatened a resumption of the record-long shutdown if the panel fails to find common ground or produces a plan he does not like.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump warned: “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”

Physical barriers have long been installed on parts of the border to keep out illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants and more are underway.

It was unclear whether Trump, who views the current arrangement as insufficient, would accept a simple continuation of such installations. Building a wall on the U.S. southern border – with Mexico paying for it – was one of Trump’s most often repeated promises during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mexico has refused to pay for a wall.

Democrats, arguing a border wall is ineffective, say they want a mix of security tools: drones, sensors, scanning devices and fences, along with more border patrol agents.

Wednesday’s committee meeting might be the only public session since behind-the-scenes negotiations are the stage for the real bargaining.

The session is expected to mainly allow the seven Senate negotiators and 10 House negotiators an opportunity to make opening statements. The committee is headed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Republican Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With a mix of wall supporters and opponents, it is unclear whether the panel will reach agreement.

Republican Representative Kay Granger was optimistic, telling reporters she and Lowey “have worked together well” over the years.

If Congress denies his request, Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” in order to take existing funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes – possibly from the Defense Department, for example – to build his wall.

There is bipartisan opposition in Congress to that plan, which likely would spark legal challenges since the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate funds and direct their use.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Trump announces deal with lawmakers to end government shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. lawmakers for three weeks in stop-gap funding that would end a partial U.S. government shutdown now in its 35th day, with a senior Democratic aide saying money the president demanded for a border wall is not included.

The president had previously insisted on the inclusion of $5.7 billion to help pay for a wall along the vast U.S.-Mexico border in any legislation to fund government agencies.

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“In a short while, I will sign a bill to open our government for three weeks until Feb. 15. I will make sure that all employees receive their back pay very quickly, or as soon as possible,” Trump said.

With the effects of the shutdown spreading on Friday, Trump said a bipartisan congressional conference committee would meet to come up with a plan for border security.

Trump triggered the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22 and idled some 800,000 government employees, with his wall-funding demand but Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, rejected it on the grounds that a wall would be costly, ineffective and immoral. Trump, whose Republicans have a majority in the Senate, has said it is necessary to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

The arrangement, which would require passage in the House and Senate and Trump’s signature, would leave his request for wall funding for later talks, a House Democratic aide said. The House could pass the measure as soon as later Friday if Republicans agree to hold a vote, the aide said.

A Senate Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to press for passage of a three-week funding bill on Friday.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea. We never did,” Trump said. “We never proposed that. We never wanted that because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we could build.

“Our proposed structures will be in predetermined, high-risk locations that have been specifically identified by the Border Patrol to stop illicit flows of people and drugs,” Trump said.

FUNDING AT LAST YEAR’S LEVELS

The temporary funding bill would extend agency funding at the last fiscal year’s levels and would include some money for border security – but not a wall.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he wanted to hear what Trump had to say before he would assume there was an iron-clad deal.

In one of the many effects of the shutdown, hundreds of flights were grounded or delayed at airports in the New York area and Philadelphia on Friday as more air traffic controllers called in sick.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for flights destined for New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Friday morning before lifting it about an hour later. Staff shortages also delayed flights at Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport, the FAA said.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed or, as with some airport workers, required to work without pay. Some federal agencies have reported much higher absence rates among workers as they face an indefinite wait for their next paychecks.

The lapse in funding has shuttered about one-quarter of federal agencies, with about 800,000 workers either furloughed or required to work without pay. It is the longest such shutdown in U.S. history. Many employees, as well as contractors, were turning to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support. Others began seeking new jobs.

On Thursday, a bill backed by Trump to end the shutdown by including the $5.7 billion he wants for partial wall funding and a separate bill supported by Democrats to reopen shuttered agencies without such funding did not get the votes required to advance in the 100-member Senate.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday the possibility of legislation that includes a large down payment on a wall, “is not a reasonable agreement.”

A Washington Post-ABC News opinion poll published on Friday showed public disapproval of Trump has swelled 5 percentage points to 58 percent over three months, with a majority of Americans holding him and congressional Republicans most responsible for the shutdown. The poll found that more than one in five Americans say they have been personally inconvenienced by the shutdown.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Editing by Bill Trott)