Monday 21 October 2019

U.S. Government unlikely to get fully back to business for days

Donald Trump attempted to pass wall budget. Picture: Getty
Donald Trump attempted to pass wall budget. Picture: Getty Newsdesk Newsdesk

The US federal government is expected to remain partially closed past Christmas Day in a protracted standoff over President Donald Trump's demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico.

With Mr Trump's insistence on five billion dollars (£3.95 billion) for the wall and negotiations with Democrats in Congress far from a breakthrough, even a temporary measure to keep the government running while talks continued seems out of reach until the Senate returns for a full session on Thursday.

From coast to coast, the first day of the shutdown played out in uneven ways.

The Statue of Liberty was still open for tours, thanks to money from New York state, and the US Post Office was still delivering mail, as an independent agency.

Yet the disruption has affected many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees.

Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid.

An additional 380,000 were to given a leave of absence, meaning they will stay home without pay.

The Senate had already passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay, and the House was likely to follow suit.

No one knew how long the closures would last.

Unlike other shutdowns, this one seemed to lack urgency, coming during the long holiday weekend after Mr Trump had already declared Monday, Christmas Eve, a federal holiday.

Rather than work around the clock to try to end the shutdown, as they had done in the past, the leaders of the House and the Senate effectively closed up shop.

But they did not rule out action if a deal were struck.

"Listen, anything can happen," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after he closed the Senate's rare Saturday session hours after it opened.

But after ushering Vice President Mike Pence through the Capitol for another round of negotiations, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, said a quick end to the shutdown was "not probable".

At the White House, Mr Trump hosted a lunch on Saturday with conservative politicians, including House Freedom Caucus chiefs Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, and several senators.

Absent from the guest list were Republican leaders or any Democrats, who would be needed for a deal.

"I am in the White House, working hard," tweeted the president, who cancelled his Florida holiday getaway to his club Mar-a-Lago due to the shutdown.

First lady Melania Trump was flying back to Washington to be with her husband.

Mr Trump's re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email late on Saturday launching what he called "the most important membership program ever - the OFFICIAL BUILD THE WALL MEMBERSHIP".

The president urged donors to sign up.

With Democrats set to take control of the House on January 3, and Speaker Paul Ryan on his way out, the shutdown was providing a last gasp of the conservative majority before the new Congress.

Mr Trump savoured the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months.

Last week he said he would be "proud" to close down the government.

He had campaigned on the promise of building the wall, and he also promised Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has refused to do so.

In recent days, though, Mr Trump tried to shift blame to Democrats for not acceding to his demand. He has given mixed messages on whether he would sign any bill into law.

After the luncheon at the White House, Senator Lindsey Graham said, "It's clear to me he believes the additional funding is necessary."

Senators approved a bipartisan deal earlier in the week to keep the government open into February and provide 1.3 billion dollars (£1 billion) for border security projects, but not the wall.

But as Mr Trump faced criticism from conservatives for "caving" on a campaign promise, he pushed to House to approve a package temporarily financing the government but also setting aside 5.7 billion dollars for the border wall.

A test vote in the Senate on Friday showed that Republicans lacked the 60 votes needed to advance the House plan.

PA Media

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