Thursday 16 August 2018

US government shutdown looms as Trump fails to strike a deal

Donald Trump held talks at the White House with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.

Chuck Schumer after meeting with US President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Chuck Schumer after meeting with US President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

By Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

US President Donald Trump failed to reach an agreement with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer after the pair met in a last-ditch bid to avert a government shutdown.

The two New Yorkers met as a bitterly divided Washington is locked in a stalemate over federal spending and legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

Both men, who pride themselves on their deal-making abilities, emerged from the meeting at the White House without an agreement, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress continued to trade blame as the midnight deadline approached.

“We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements,” Mr Schumer told reporters upon returning to Capitol Hill.

As news of the meeting spread, the White House sought to reassure Republican congressional leaders that Mr Trump would not make any major policy concessions.

Senate Republican leader John Cornyn of Texas said Mr Trump told Mr Schumer to work things out with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The ball is in Senator Schumer’s court,” Mr Cornyn said.

Democrats in the Senate have served notice they will filibuster a four-week, government-wide funding bill that cleared the House on Thursday evening. That could expose them to charges that they are responsible for a shutdown, but they point the finger at Republicans instead.

“They’re in charge,” Mr Schumer said on Friday as he entered his Capitol office. “They’re not talking to us. They’re totally paralysed and inept. There’s no one to negotiate with.”

Republicans controlling the narrowly split chamber argue that it is the Democrats who are holding the government hostage over demands to protect “dreamer” immigrants brought to the country as children and now here illegally.

And the White House tried to paint the impending action as the “Schumer shutdown”. The White House said Mr Trump would not leave for a planned weekend trip to Florida if there was no agreement. The president had been set to leave on Friday afternoon to attend a fundraiser at his Palm Beach estate marking the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

The impact of the potential shutdown on the planned trip by Mr Trump and much of his Cabinet to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next week was still undetermined.

Mr Trump entered the fray early on Friday morning, mentioning the House-approved bill on Twitter, adding: “Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate — but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!”

Mr Trump has given Congress until March 5 to save the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting young immigrants, so “there is absolutely no reason to tie those things together right now,” budget director Mick Mulvaney said at the White House.

On Capitol Hill, Mr McConnell said he hoped to vote on the House-passed bill “soon”, and said Americans at home would be watching to see “which senators make the patriotic decision” and which “vote to shove aside veterans, military families and vulnerable children to hold the entire country hostage… until we pass an immigration bill.”

A Senate Republican aide said Mr McConnell was not attending the White House meeting because Mr Trump had only issued the invitation to Mr Schumer.

In the House, Republicans muscled the measure through on a mostly party-line 230-197 vote after making modest concessions to chamber conservatives and defence hawks.

The chamber backed away from a plan to adjourn for a one-week recess Friday afternoon, meaning the Republican-controlled House could wait to see if a last-minute compromise would be reached requiring a new vote.

A test vote on a filibuster by Senate Democrats appeared likely before the shutdown deadline. Mr Schumer was rebuffed in an attempt to vote on Thursday night.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” said Mr Schumer, insisting on more urgency in talks on immigration.

“In another month, we’ll be right back here, at this moment, with the same web of problems at our feet, in no better position to solve them.”

The short-term measure would be the fourth stopgap spending bill since the current budget year started in October. A pile of unfinished Capitol Hill business has been on hold, first as Republicans ironed out last autumn’s tax bill and now as Democrats insist on progress on immigration.

Talks on a budget deal to ease tight spending limits on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies are on hold, as is progress on a huge 80 billion dollar-plus disaster aid bill.

House Republican leaders sweetened the pending stopgap measure with legislation to extend for six years a popular health care programme for children from low-income families and two-year delays in unpopular “Obamacare” taxes on medical devices and generous employer-provided health plans.

AP

Press Association

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