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Thursday 19 September 2019

Trump digs in over wall funding as US government heads for shutdown

The shutdown, scheduled for midnight in the US, would disrupt government operations.

President Donald Trump is trying to pin blame on the Democrats over a government shutdown (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump is trying to pin blame on the Democrats over a government shutdown (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Lisa Mascaro, Matthew Daly and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

US President Donald Trump appears to be playing hardball in a stand-off with Democrats over his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico.

The shutdown, scheduled for midnight in the US, would disrupt government operations and leave hundreds of thousands of federal workers given a leave of absence or forced to work without pay just days before Christmas.

Mr Trump convened Republican senators for a lengthy meeting at the White House, but it produced no clear path towards passage of a government-funding bill containing billions for wall construction.

The Senate began a procedural vote on the legislation but was stuck in a long holding pattern waiting for the return of senators who had already left town.

“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 at the White House.

Democrats will take control of the House in January, and they oppose major funding for wall construction.

Mr Trump tried to pin the blame on Democrats for the possible shutdown, even though just last week he said he would be “proud” to shut part of the government in a fight for the wall, which was a major promise of his presidential campaign.

Congress had been on track to fund the government but change direction when Mr Trump, after criticism from conservative supporters, declared he would not sign a bill without the wall billions.

His supporters on the right warned that his “caving” on repeated wall promises could hurt his 2020 re-election chances, and those of other Republicans as well.

“We’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown,” Mr Trump said on Friday. Embracing his changed terminology, he claimed there is tremendous enthusiasm for border security – “the barrier, wall or steel slats – it’s all the same.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell returned to Capitol Hill saying lawmakers “had a good conversation about the way forward. We are going to continue to be talking this afternoon”.

Mr McConnell quickly set in motion a Senate procedural vote on a House Republican package that would give Trump 5.7 billion US dollars (£4.51 billion) for the wall, but it was not expected to pass.

At least one Republican, retiring senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, was opposed, saying he would resist wall money without broader immigration reforms, leaving even the procedural vote in doubt.

Only a week ago, Mr Trump insisted during a televised meeting at the White House he would take ownership of a shutdown over his border wall. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down,” he asserted.

But with the hours dwindling before the midnight deadline, Mr Trump sought to reframe the debate and blame Democrats for the impasse that threatens hundreds of thousands of federal workers on the eve of the end-of-the-year holidays.

“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything,” he tweeted.

Later in the morning, not even waiting for a Senate vote, Mr Trump tweeted that “the Democrats now own the shutdown!”

The White House said Trump would not go to Florida on Friday as planned for the Christmas holiday if the government was shutting down.

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