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Trump Signs $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill, Averting A Government Shutdown

Mar 23, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 10:55 pm

Updated at 2:21 p.m. ET

President Trump signed a massive spending bill Friday, hours after threatening a veto that would have triggered a government shutdown.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus legislation passed both chambers of Congress after lengthy negotiations between leaders of both parties. The Senate passed it late Thursday, and most lawmakers had left Washington by Friday morning.

Trump tweeted just before 9 a.m. ET that he was "considering a VETO" because the bill does not fully address his immigration priorities. Hours later, the president relented and signed the measure, just as his aides had promised all along.

The eleventh-hour veto threat added suspense to what otherwise would have been a perfunctory signing ceremony and guaranteed a rapt audience for the president's midday TV appearance.

"I looked very seriously at the veto," Trump said. "I was thinking about doing the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we've been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking."

Aides had been insisting Trump would sign the measure because it authorizes tens of billions of dollars in additional military spending.

"My highest duty is to keep America safe," Trump said.

The president complained that he was forced to go along with higher spending on domestic programs in order to win Democratic support for the bill but insisted he would not do so in the future.

"I say to Congress I will never sign another bill like this again," Trump said.

He urged lawmakers to grant him authority to veto individual line items in future spending bills. He also called for scrapping the requirement of 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate — a threshold that demands bipartisan compromise. Neither of those moves appears likely. The Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional 20 years ago. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has rejected the idea of discarding the filibuster.

A day earlier, Vice President Pence told an audience in New Hampshire that one reason Trump would sign the omnibus was because it included some money for a border wall.

"With $1.6 billion included in the spending bill that arrives on President Trump's desk tomorrow, we're going to start to build that wall," Pence said to applause. "We're doing it."

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney also cited the bill's increases in spending on the opioid crisis, school safety and workforce development.

"Is it perfect?" Mulvaney asked, rhetorically. "No. Is it exactly what we asked for in the budget? No. Were we ever going to get that? No. That's not how the process works."

Mulvaney acknowledged the bill does not go as far as Trump wanted on immigration.

"Let's make it clear," Mulvaney said. "The president wanted a DACA fix as part of this deal. He had offered a large package with a complete DACA fix in exchange for the entire wall. "

There is more to the story, though: In exchange for a DACA fix — to protect young immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation — Trump demanded not only funding for the border wall but also big changes in the nation's legal immigration system.

Trump has rejected proposed bipartisan DACA fixes that would swap a permanent fix for money to build a border wall. The White House demanded broader changes to legal immigration that Democrats wouldn't support.

Conservatives in Congress opposed the spending bill because it would add to the deficit. Many, like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., say they were dismayed that the legislation includes spending increases sought by Democrats and fails to fulfill Republican campaign promises to cut the overall size of government.

Republican leaders could have crafted a spending bill that met conservative demands, but it would fail in the Senate, where Democrats have enough votes to block legislation.

The omnibus spending package has been in the works for several months and was crafted with input from both the White House and Congress. It was written to fill out a budget outline that Congress passed, and Trump signed, in February.

McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that the spending legislation was a true compromise.

"Months of in-depth, bicameral, bipartisan negotiations and committee work have led up to this point," McConnell said. "The result is legislation that neither side sees as perfect — but which contains a host of significant victories and important achievements on behalf of the American people."

NPR's Scott Detrow and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump has signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill, but he made a point of saying he wasn't happy about it. And that signature only came after the president set up a reality television-style cliffhanger. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There wasn't supposed to be any suspense. The Senate passed the spending bill known as the Omnibus on a bipartisan basis in the wee hours of the morning. It had already passed the House. All that was needed to avoid a government shutdown was a presidential signature, something that just the day before had been assured by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICK MULVANEY: Let's cut right to the chase. Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes. Why? Because it funds his priorities.

KEITH: But over on "Fox & Friends..."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

PETE HEGSETH: This is a swamp budget.

KEITH: ...Host Pete Hegseth wasn't so thrilled with the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

HEGSETH: You know, there's no DREAMers in there. There's some pro-life stuff in there.

STEVE DOOCY: There's no wall.

HEGSETH: There's no insurance (unintelligible). But there's no wall. I mean, if you can't - ultimately, the Democrats controlled this process in the Senate.

KEITH: This is a show President Trump is known to watch, and at 8:55 a.m., Trump threw in a dramatic plot twist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Moments ago, the president did something that I don't think anyone saw coming when he threatened to veto this huge $1.3 trillion spending bill.

KEITH: It came via a tweet. Quote, "I am considering a veto of the Omnibus Spending Bill." His reason - because it didn't deal with immigration and didn't have enough money for his border wall. This sent shock waves over on Capitol Hill where most members of Congress were long gone, having recessed for spring break. Suddenly, no one knew what the president was going to do. The silence was broken by another tweet. Trump announced he would be making a statement, which of course would be carried live on TV. Would he sign it or wouldn't he? Trump started off talking about trade with South Korea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I might ask Secretary Ross to just say a few words about that, and then we're going to get on to this ridiculous situation that took place over the last week.

KEITH: That ridiculous situation, it seems, was the government funding bill, which three minutes into his remarks and 4 1/2 hours after that veto threat tweet, Trump announced he had already signed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Therefore, as a matter of national security, I've signed this Omnibus budget bill. There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill.

KEITH: And he added...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again.

KEITH: Even before today's suspense, it had been a White House week made for TV. First, Trump added a new lawyer to his legal team dealing with the special counsel investigation who was a regular on Fox News. Then, late yesterday, Trump announced via tweet that he was replacing his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, with former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and more recently Fox News contributor John Bolton, who shortly after the announcement was interviewed on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTHA MACCALLUM: Your reaction to your new job.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think I still am a Fox News contributor.

MACCALLUM: (Laughter) No, you're not, apparently (laughter).

BOLTON: I didn't - well, I haven't started there yet, so that demonstrates, I think, the sort of limbo that I'm in because I didn't really expect an announcement this afternoon. But it's obviously a great honor. It's always an honor to serve our country.

KEITH: This came less than two weeks after Trump announced he would replace his top economic adviser with CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow. Oh, and one of the people rumored to be up for the job of V.A. secretary - if the president decides to make a change - is none other than Pete Hegseth, the Fox News personality who quite possibly prompted Trump's morning veto threat. Roll the credits. Tune in next week. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.