Hundreds of thousands of US workers left without pay

No deal in sight as government shutdown set to become longest in history

A protest against the government shutdown in Boston, US, on Friday. Photograph: Scott Eisen/ Bloomberg

A protest against the government shutdown in Boston, US, on Friday. Photograph: Scott Eisen/ Bloomberg

 

Members of Congress left Washington for the weekend with no deal in sight to end the government shutdown, as hundreds of thousands of workers were left without pay on Friday.

With the government shutdown set to become the longest in history when it reaches the 22-day mark this weekend, both sides looked as far apart as ever on an agreement.

Speaking at the White House on Friday Donald Trump again set out his right to declare a national emergency if needed. But he added, “I won’t do it so fast,” claiming that declaring a national emergency to obtain funds for the border wall would be the “easy solution”.

“We want Congress to do its job . . . what we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he said, adding that Congress should come back to Washington and vote on a funding deal.

Though legally Mr Trump is within his rights to declare a national emergency over immigration, the decision would almost certainly meet immediate legal challenges and would leave the president open to charges that he is politicising his presidential powers.

The president, and several senior White House officials, have continually characterised the situation at the border as a “crisis” in recent weeks, in what many see as a strategy to legitimise the use of his executive powers if needed.

National emergency

If a national emergency is declared, the administration is likely to tap unused Department of Defense funds to build his wall. In particular, the administration is said to be eyeing unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers’s budget, which included $13.9 billion (€12 billion) allocated for civil works projects.

Views were mixed among Republicans about whether the president should use his presidential authority and bypass Congress to build his proposed wall.

Veteran senator Chuck Grassley warned against it, arguing that it would set a bad precedent. He also introduced a Bill in the Senate on Friday to prevent future government shutdowns. “It costs money to shut down the government and it costs more money to reopen it,” he said. “When the government shuts down, Americans are deprived of essential services and their tax dollars are needlessly wasted. Shutdowns also erode the trust between citizens and their government.”

But others urged Mr Trump to declare a national emergency. Senator Lindsey Graham, who met Mr Trump on Friday, said it was clear that “Democrats don’t want to make a deal and will never support border wall/barriers”.

“Mr President. Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW,” he said on Twitter.

About 100,000 workers are affected by the government shutdown.

Standstill

The three-week impasse has brought much of Washington DC to a standstill, with museums and visitor centres remaining closed on Friday. The Senate passed a Bill this week that ensures all furloughed workers will receive backpay, though thousands of contractors will not.

The Trump administration has sought to limit some of the damage, instructing the Inland Revenue Services to continue issuing tax refunds, and pledging that recipients of food aid programmes will continue to receive their entitlements. But these moves have themselves attracted legal scrutiny. US law prohibits the government from spending money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress.

Earlier on Friday the president doubled-down on his claim that Mexico would pay for the wall indirectly through the renegotiated Nafta trade deal, claiming again that he never said that Mexico would pay for the wall directly.

“I often said during rallies, with little variation, that ‘Mexico will pay for the Wall,’” he said on Twitter. “We have just signed a great new Trade Deal with Mexico. It is Billions of Dollars a year better than the very bad NAFTA deal which it replaces. The difference pays for Wall many times over!