WASHINGTON — The tentative deal reached late Monday by congressional negotiators to avert another government shutdown brought to the fore something President Trump has rarely seen in his time in office: reality-based programming.
With Mr. Trump holding firm to his demand for a border wall with Mexico, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill adopted another approach, namely flexibility.
The agreement in principle is a new challenge for Mr. Trump as he navigates a divided government.
Here are some key takeways from the possible accord.
Republicans are sending the president a message
Mr. Trump has rarely wavered in his arguments for a border wall, many of them false, including several of those made Monday night at campaign rally in El Paso.
The president insisted that the barriers built there on the border with Mexico had helped drastically reduce crime. But Republican and Democratic local officials, and federal crime statistics, showed otherwise.
Republicans in Congress were mindful of this and the possible fallout from another shutdown. So they did what the president has chosen not to do: negotiate with Democrats to try to fashion a solution.
The tentative deal does not come close to Mr. Trump’s demands, but does represent what Republicans were able to achieve given the strong resistance and the relative solidarity among Democrats.
It delivers even less than a deal that Vice President Mike Pence proposed to Democrats in December. Republicans yielded on money and wall construction, while Democrats dropped demands for some aspects of migrant detention.
When asked if the president would sign the deal if Congress approves, it, Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the appropriations committee, told reporters, “We think so. We hope so.”
Trump has a messaging challenge
By almost any objective measure, the president cannot claim victory based on this deal. That does not mean he will not try. In recent days, he has shifted his rhetoric from “building” a wall to “finishing” a wall.
He was defiant at the rally in El Paso. “We need the wall and it has to be built,” he said.
News of the possible deal broke just before Mr. Trump was to speak.
He had the option of receiving a briefing on the compromise or making a scheduled appearance with Laura Ingraham of Fox News. He chose the latter. He has some work to do persuading his supporters on the right who see the wall as a core promise of his presidency. The early reviews were harsh. On Fox, Sean Hannity called the deal “a garbage compromise.”
The president still has a card in his pocket: a national emergency
The president has retained the option of declaring a national emergency to build the border barrier. Now he will have to decide whether to accept the deal that top members of his own party in Congress negotiated, or to in effect go it alone.
If Mr. Trump were to declare a national emergency, the move would assuredly draw a court challenge, and would not help him in further negotiations with Congress on other issues.
Or he can continue to try to make the wall a potent issue of his 2020 re-election campaign, arguing that if he had a Republican-controlled Congress, he could deliver on his promise. That strategy failed in the 2018 midterm elections.
Congress showed it could function normally
Mr. Trump is not the only one with political imperatives in the border security debate.
Members of Congress also possess a sense of self-interest that exceeds their allegiance to the president. Republicans in particular know that the wall is not broadly popular in the country, and that another government shutdown would probably hurt their party far more than Democrats. That much of the impetus for compromise seemed to come from Senate Republicans, who hold a majority in their chamber, is a clear signal they want to move past this debate.
Democrats were vulnerable, too, though, as they would shoulder a sizable share of the blame for another government shutdown. And they cannot advance their agenda to show a contrast with Mr. Trump and Republicans if the government is closed.
‘In principle’ does not mean the deal is final
Congressional deals reached among small groups of even influential members have also been known to fall apart. For now, this deal looks promising, but nothing is final until it is final.
The compromise needs to be written into legislation, both chambers of Congress need to pass it, and the president needs to sign it, all before Friday to avert another government shutdown.