Friday 20 September 2019

Trump's 'temper tantrum' sees US partly shut down in row over his wall

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

Lisa Mascaro in Washington

America's elected leaders have partially closed down the US government over their inability to compromise on money for a wall along the Mexican border.

Congressional Democrats are refusing to accede to President Donald Trump's demands for US$5bn (€4.1bn) to start building his long-promised barrier, and the stalemate is a chaotic finale for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government.

Vice President Mike Pence, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney left the US Capitol Building late last Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise.

Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown" - though he wrote that administration officials are "hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration". Both the US House and Senate scheduled rare sessions yesterday for the politicians who rarely work weekends.

The impasse blocks money for nine of 15 cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.

The disruption affects many US government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees.

About 420,000 workers are deemed essential and will work unpaid throughout the shutdown. An additional 380,000 will be told to stay at home without pay.

Federal employees had already been granted an extra day of holiday on Christmas Eve, thanks to an executive order Trump signed last week. The president did not go to Florida last Friday as planned for his own Christmas break.

Workers being told to stay at home unpaid until the impasse is resolved include nearly everyone at Nasa and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded and will operate as usual.

The US Postal Service, busy delivering Christmas packages, will not be affected because it is an independent agency. Social security cheques will be sent as usual, troops will remain on duty and food inspections will continue.

Also still functioning will be the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers will be on the job.

Trump has savoured the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months. Last week he said he would be "proud" to close down the government, and last Friday said he was "totally prepared for a very long" closure.

Many of Congress's most conservative Republicans welcomed such a confrontation, but most GOP politicians have wanted to avoid one because polling shows the public broadly opposes the wall and a shutdown over it.

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Trump "threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season".

Trump had made clear last week that he would not blame Democrats for any closure. Now, he and his GOP allies have spent the past few days saying Democrats bear responsibility.

He said now is the time for Congress to provide taxpayer money for the wall, even though he has long claimed Mexico would pay for it.

Mexico rebuffed that idea.

"This is our only chance that we'll ever have, in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security," Mr Trump said last Friday.

Democrats, who opposed major funding for wall construction, will take control of the House on January 3.

© Press Association

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