WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump abandoned a threat to shut down the US government Friday, signing off on a budget despite being “unhappy” with many of its provisions — and warning he won’t back anything similar ever again.
A visibly aggrieved Trump capped another anarchic week by approving a US$1.3 trillion deal by the Republican-controled Congress, just hours after threatening to veto it.
Trump fumed that a “crazy” lawmaking process had produced a bill that “nobody read” — but said he was signing it as a “matter of national security.”
“There are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill,” he said in a hastily arranged and meandering address.
“There are a lot of things that we shouldn’t have had in this bill. But we were, in a sense, forced,” he said. “But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again.”
Without his signature, hundreds of thousands of civil servants would have been put on forced leave, national parks from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone would have faced closure and non-essential services would have stopped.
It would have been the third shutdown of 2018, something lawmakers from both parties had worked hard to avoid.
Earlier Friday Washington let out a collective gasp when Trump took to Twitter to rubbish the hard-won agreement, which dramatically expands military funding.
Trump’s threat came after a host on conservative channel Fox News pilloried the deal as a Washington “swamp budget.”
“I looked very seriously at the veto. I was thinking about doing the veto,” Trump said.
The last minute drama only fueled a sense of chaos emanating from a White House that seems to lurch from crisis to crisis.
This week alone the former reality TV star replaced his national security advisor, launched a new trade fight with China, and needled investigators probing Russia election meddling.
At the same time he faced an unprecedented number of scandals — from a defamation lawsuit, to allegations of at least two extramarital affairs.
Amid the pressure, Trump has become unbridled, appearing increasingly willing to disregard the advice of aides and trust his own instincts, regardless of the repercussions.
On Thursday, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney insisted signature was a foregone conclusion.
“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.”
Border security and the ‘Dreamers’
The centerpiece of the legislation is a US$61 billion increase in US defense spending and a 10% hike in domestic spending, which would rise to US$591 billion.
The bill provided US$1.6 billion for border security and construction or repair of nearly 160 kilometers of border fencing, but that was far less than Trump had been seeking.
It leaves intact funding for women’s health provider Planned Parenthood, a target of relentless criticism from pro-life Republicans.
But it set aside the issue of the so-called “Dreamers,” migrants brought illegally to America as children who were protected under Obama-era regulation.
Trump himself cancelled the de facto amnesty — known as DACA — but has repeatedly tried to pin the blame on Democrats.
“DACA recipients have been treated extremely badly by the Democrats,” he said.
Shortly before Trump addressed the media, several lawmakers called on him to not trigger a shutdown.
Trump “needs to drop his wildly reckless veto threats” and sign the bill, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said.
“Americans deserve leadership from the White House, not more self-inflicted chaos.”
Some conservative Republicans welcomed the move, saying the process was flawed from the start.