US government’s partial shutdown is set to continue past Christmas

Talks between Democrats and the White House fail to resolve border wall dispute

US president Donald Trump calls on the Democrat party to back his plans for a wall on the US-Mexico border as the US government goes into partial shutdown. Video: Donald Trump/The White House

 

The US government has partially shut down after Democrats refused to meet president Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion to start erecting his Mexican border wall.

The shutdown appeared likely to drag through the Christmas holiday after the Senate adjourned on Saturday with no deal to end the impasse.

Talks between Senate Democrats and the White House appeared to yield no progress, leading Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to send senators home.

Mr McConnell left open the possibility of a Senate vote should a deal to reopen the government be reached in the coming days, but the logistics of staging votes in the Senate and then the House of Representatives over the holiday would make a quick resolution difficult.

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday.

Vice-president Mike Pence, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney had left the Capitol late on Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise.

“We don’t have a deal. We’re still talking,” Senate appropriations committee chairman Richard Shelby told reporters.

Late on Friday, Mr Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown”.

He wrote that Trump administration officials were “hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration”.

The House and Senate both scheduled rare Saturday sessions to deal with the issue.

House members were told they would get 24 hours’ notice before a vote.

The gridlock 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, as their funding expired at midnight on Saturday without a replacement deal in place.

The lack of funds will disrupt many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees.

Roughly 420,000 of the workers were deemed essential and will work unpaid just days before Christmas as a result of the shutdown, while 380,000 will be given a leave of absence, meaning they will stay home without pay.

Those being given a leave of absence include nearly everyone at Nasa and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About eight in 10 employees of the National Park Service will stay home and many parks were expected to close.

The Senate passed legislation ensuring the workers will receive back pay, which the House seemed sure to approve.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of veterans’ affairs and health and human services, were already funded for the year in agreements reached earlier, and they will operate as usual.

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 also remain at work.

‘Very long closure’

Mr Trump has openly savoured a shutdown over the wall for months, saying last week he would be “proud” to have one and saying on Friday he was “totally prepared for a very long” closure.

While many of Congress’s most conservative Republicans were welcoming such a confrontation, most Republican politicians have wanted to avoid one, since polling shows the public broadly opposes the wall and a shutdown over it.

A joint statement by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said: “Instead of honouring his responsibility to the American people, president 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.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed disappointment at the lack of a deal, and Lamar Alexander said: “This is a complete failure of negotiations and a success for no one.”

Looking for a way to claim victory, Mr Trump said he would accept money for a “Steel Slat Barrier” with spikes on the top, which he said would be just as effective as a “wall” and “at the same time beautiful.”

Mr Trump called Republican senators to the White House on Friday morning, but Republicans said afterwards that the session did not produce a strategy.

Early this week, the Senate approved a bipartisan deal keeping government open into February and providing $1.3 billion for border security projects but not the wall.

In a Republican victory on Thursday, the House rebelled and approved a package temporarily financing the government but also providing $5.7 billion for the border wall.

On Friday afternoon, a Senate procedural vote showed that Republicans lacked the 60 votes they would need to force that measure through their chamber. That jump-started negotiations between Congress and the White House.

The White House said Mr Trump did not go to Florida on Friday as planned for the Christmas holiday, and will stay in the Washington due to the shutdown. – AP