Wednesday 23 May 2018

Republicans, Democrats dig in for long struggle over US shutdown

A sign announces the closure of the Library of Congress after President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies in Washington. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A sign announces the closure of the Library of Congress after President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies in Washington. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Susan Cornwell in Washington

Republicans and Democrats hardened their stances last night as both sides prepared for what could be a prolonged fight, shutting down the US government for a second day.

Democrats demanded US President Donald Trump negotiates on immigration issues as part of any agreement to resume government funding, and accused him of reneging on an earlier accord to protect 'Dreamers', illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

"I hope it is just a matter of hours or days. But we need to have a substantive answer, and the only person who can lead us to that is President Trump. This is his shutdown," said Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

Republicans were just as adamant, saying they would not negotiate immigration or other issues as long as all but essential government services remain shuttered.

Speaking to US troops at a military base in the Middle East, Vice-President Mike Pence said: "We're not going to reopen negotiations on illegal immigration until they reopen the government and give you, our soldiers and your families, the benefits and wages you've earned."

After funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight on Friday, many US government employees were told to stay at home or, in some cases, work without pay until new funding is approved. The shutdown is the first since a 16-day closure in October 2013.

US Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
US Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

With elections set for November for a third of US Senate seats and the entire House of Representatives, both sides are manoeuvring to blame the other for the shutdown.

Mr Trump, who cancelled a planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that included a major fundraiser on the anniversary of his first year as president, said if the stalemate continued, Republicans should change Senate rules so a measure could be passed to fund the government. Current rules require a super-majority of three-fifths of the chamber, usually 60 out of 100, for legislation to clear procedural hurdles and pass.

"The Dems (Democrats) just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51pc (nuclear option) and vote on real, long-term budget," Mr Trump said on Twitter. But a senior member of Mr Trump's own Republican party rejected the idea.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he and his colleagues oppose changing the chamber's rules so a simple majority could advance legislation to fund the government and end the current shutdown, according to a spokesman.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate. On Capitol Hill, Senator John Thune, a junior member of the Republican leadership, said there was "no progress to report" in negotiations, but that Senator McConnell's office was open for business and for talks with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

"I'm kind of keeping hope alive here that before 1am tomorrow that we'll have something that gets us out of this jam," Mr Thune told reporters.

The Senate was due to vote at 1am US time (6am Irish time) on whether to advance a measure to fund the government through to February 8, unless Democrats agree to hold it sooner, Senator McConnell said.

The level of support for the bill was uncertain, but given Democratic leaders' public statements, it seemed unlikely the measure would receive the 60 votes required to advance.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Mr Trump had instructed him to ease the effects of the shutdown as much as possible.

"The president has told me, 'make sure as many people go to work Monday as possibly can. Use every tool legally available to you'," Mr Mulvaney said.

Senator Schumer and his colleagues accused Mr Trump of being an unreliable negotiating partner, saying the two sides came close to a deal on immigration several times, only to have Mr Trump back out under pressure from anti-immigration conservatives.

Senator Schumer "put a lot on the table" in negotiations on Friday, which Mr Trump accepted, then "walked it back", Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on the 'Fox News Sunday' show.

Irish Independent

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