The federal government was expected to remain partially shut down past Christmas as the standoff deepened Saturday over President Donald Trump’s demand for funds to build a border wall with Mexico.
With Trump’s insistence on $5 billion for the wall and negotiations with Democrats in Congress far from a breakthrough, even a temporary measure to keep the government running while talks continued seemed out of reach until the Senate returned for a full session Thursday.
Lester Munson on the latest in the U.S. government shutdown
CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg spoke with Lester Munson for more insights on the latest government shutdown in 2018. Munson is a US foreign policy and national security analyst. He is also the head of Government Affairs at BGR Group, a government relations firm here in Washington D.C.
From coast to coast, the first day of the shutdown played out in uneven ways. The Statue of Liberty was still open for tours, thanks to funding from New York state, and the U.S. Post Office was still delivering mail, as an independent agency.
Yet the disruption affected many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid. An additional 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay. The Senate had already passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay, and the House was likely to follow suit.
No one knew how long the closures would last. Unlike other shutdowns, this one seemed to lack urgency, coming during the long holiday weekend after Trump had already declared Monday, Christmas Eve, a federal holiday. Rather than work around the clock to try to end the shutdown, as they had done in the past, the leaders of the House and the Senate effectively closed up shop. But they didn’t rule out action if a deal were struck.
“Listen, anything can happen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after he closed the Senate’s rare Saturday session hours after it opened.
But after ushering Vice President Mike Pence through the Capitol for another round of negotiations, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said a quick end to the shutdown was “not probable.”
At the White House, Trump hosted a lunch Saturday with conservative lawmakers, including House Freedom Caucus chiefs Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, and several senators. Absent from the guest list were GOP leaders or any Democrats, who would be needed for a deal.
“I am in the White House, working hard,” tweeted the president, who canceled his Florida holiday getaway to his club Mar-a-Lago due to the shutdown. First lady Melania Trump was flying back to Washington to be with her husband.
Trump’s re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email late Saturday launching what he called “the most important membership program ever – the OFFICIAL BUILD THE WALL MEMBERSHIP.” The president urged donors to sign up.
With Democrats set to take control of the House on Jan. 3, and Speaker Paul Ryan on his way out, the shutdown was providing a last gasp of the conservative majority before the new Congress.
Trump savored the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months. Last week he said he would be “proud” to close down the government. He had campaigned on the promise of building the wall, and he also promised Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has refused to do so.
In recent days, though, Trump tried to shift blame to Democrats for not acceding to his demand. He has given mixed messages on whether he would sign any bill into law.
After the luncheon at the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “It’s clear to me he believes the additional funding is necessary.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Pence on Saturday at the request of the White House, according to Schumer’s office. But the senator’s spokesman said they remained “very far apart” on a spending agreement.
Schumer said the “Trump shutdown” could end immediately if the president simply dropped his demand for money. “If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” Schumer said.
Story by the Associated Press.