Trump threatens ‘very long shutdown’ amid border wall funding row

Democrats and US president blame each other for crisis as shutdown looms

 US president Donald Trump has called on senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House to prevent the shutdown.  File photograph: Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump has called on senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House to prevent the shutdown. File photograph: Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

 

US president Donald Trump conceded on Friday there was a good chance the Senate would not approve his demand for $5 billion toward funding his border wall project and that there probably would be a government shutdown beginning at midnight.

Before meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House, Mr Trump had written on Twitter that “Democrats now own the shutdown”, despite having said last week that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue of border security and “I’ll be the one to shut it down.”

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he said in another tweet before meeting with Republican senators.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer refused to take the blame. “President Trump, you own the shutdown,” he said on the Senate floor. “You said so in your own words.”

After the White House meeting, Mr Trump said there was a good chance a bill with wall funding would be defeated in the Senate and that a shutdown was likely.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell urged the Senate to pass the bill approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday that would give Mr Trump $5 billion (€4.4 billion) toward building the wall on the Mexican border – one of the major themes of his presidency.

There still appeared to be little chance senators would go along with the House bill as they began procedural votes on whether to even consider it. Republican senator Bob Corker bluntly said, “The $5 billion is not going to pass.”

The Senate, where Republicans have only a 51-49 majority, already had approved funds for the government through to February 8th in hopes of avoiding a partial government shutdown but without money for the wall. On Thursday Mr Trump pushed fellow Republicans in the House to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through the border wall money despite Democratic objections.

Investor anxieties

In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Mr Trump urged Mr McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House. He also called on Mr McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with a simple majority, rather than the standard “supermajority” of 60 votes. But there was not enough support among Republican senators to do so.

The threat of a US government shutdown, which would leave thousands of federal workers out of work at Christmas, continued to fuel investor anxieties on Friday over the trajectory of global economic growth as world stocks extended a steep sell-off.

The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Mr Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted defence secretary Jim Mattis to resign, and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Mr Trump won.

Three-quarters of government programmes are fully funded through to the end of the federal fiscal year September 30th next, including those in the defence department, labour department and health and human services.

But funding for other agencies, including the homeland security, justice and agriculture departments, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.

If the House measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have pledged to deny it passage. It remained unclear what would happen if the House measure failed there.

A partial government shutdown could begin, with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety. Such critical workers, including US border agents, and nonessential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.

Campaign promise

Alternatively, lawmakers could seek a solution that Mr Trump finds acceptable, although it was unclear what that would be.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump was “not going to back down on this fight” and would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned.

Asked how long any potential shutdown would last, Ms Sanders said: “Let’s hope that that doesn’t have to happen.”

Mr Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Democratic US senator Chris Coons on Friday said he hoped Mr Trump would change course and support the Senate-passed bill, which includes funds for border security but not specifically for the wall. “This is a fight more over message and the president trying to fulfill a campaign promise rather than substance,” Mr Coons told CNN in an interview on Friday. – Reuters