US politicians race to avoid government shutdown

Republicans need Democrats’ backing to pass short-term spending Bill

The stand-off has caused president Donald Trump to cancel his planned departure on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago on Friday afternoon. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Frantic negotiations were continuing in Washington on Friday in a bid to avoid a government shutdown, as politicians raced to secure enough votes for a short-term spending Bill to pass through the Senate.

With the government spending Bill due to run out at midnight, Americans were facing the prospect of the first government shutdown since 2013, with the White House budget director writing to the heads of federal agencies advising them to make arrangements to shut their doors.

While the House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill to fund the government until February 16th late on Thursday, Republicans did not have enough support in the Senate to endorse the proposal. Republicans control 52 seats in the 100-seat chamber, but need 60 votes to advance the House bill.

President Donald Trump raised the prospect of a shutdown on Friday morning. “Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming?” he tweeted


But in a bipartisan gesture he later invited Chuck Schumer, the top democrat in the Senate to a meeting in the White House. While progress was reported at the meeting between the two men, it yielded no deal.

Speaking as he returned to Capitol Hill after the 90-minute meeting, the New York senator said: "We had a long and detailed meeting. We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue." He then met with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and fellow democratic Senator Richard Durbin to brief them on the meeting.

The standoff also forced Mr Trump to cancel his planned departure on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago on Friday afternoon. It was unclear if he would fly on Saturday to his Palm Beach mansion where he was scheduled to host a dinner to mark his first-year anniversary in office.

Mexican wall

The latest budget bill has been mired in controversy over demands by Democrats to include a measure to protect so-called Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children – while Mr Trump has demanded funding for his proposed wall on the US-Mexican border.

One option on the table was a temporary funding extension to allow senators to come up with a more long-term plan that would include a measure for Dreamers.

Earlier in the day budget director Mick Mulvaney blamed democrats for the stand-off described it as the "Schumer Shutdown". He said that Democrats were not prepared to back the Bill even though they weren't opposed to anything in the Bill.

“We don’t want this. We do not want a shutdown. But if Mr Schumer insists on it, he is in a position to force this on the American people,” he said.

Similarly, senate majority leader Mitch McConnell during a debate in the senate chamber said that Democrats were willing to “hold the entire nation hostage” to protect “people who came into the United States illegally”.

Blame game

As the blame-game intensified over who was responsible for the impending shutdown, a Washington Post-ABC poll found that 48 per cent of Americans blamed Mr Trump and the Republican party for the possible shutdown, with only 28 per cent blaming Democrats.

The last time the government shut down was in 2013 over then president Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. Government offices and national parks closed for 16 days. According to Moody’s it cost the economy an estimated $20 billion.

But Mr Mulvaney said that national parks would not shut this time in the event of a shutdown though many federal offices and agencies would.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent