WASHINGTON: The US government began a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday after Republican senators failed to muster the votes needed to approve $5 billion that President Donald Trump wants for a border wall fiercely opposed by Democrats.
Trump said the impending shutdown of some key parts of the federal government could last “a very long time,” and he sought to blame Democrats.
They, in turn, put the blame squarely on Trump, reminding him that last week he said he would be “proud” to shut the government down in order to get funding for a wall on the US border with Mexico.
Republican and Democratic senators earlier this week reached a deal on short-term funding legislation that did not include the $5 billion Trump wants, but the president said on Thursday he would not sign it.
The impending shutdown was the latest evidence of dysfunction in Washington and does not bode well for next year, when Democrats will have a stronger hand as they take control of the House of Representatives.
“President Trump has thrown a temper tantrum and now has us careening toward a ‘Trump shutdown’ over Christmas,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.
“You’re not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd, when Democrats take control of the House,” Schumer added.
Hours before the midnight deadline, lawmakers met with Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials in a last-ditch effort to find a compromise funding bill acceptable to both political parties and Trump.
But they were unable to reach a deal. The adjournment of the House just before 7 pm and the Senate just after 8 pm ensured a government shutdown.
Senators said talks would continue over the weekend. The Senate was set to return from recess at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday.
Congressional funding for about one-quarter of the federal government’s programs expires at midnight (0500 GMT).
Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through next September 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services. But funding for other agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.
A partial shutdown begins with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety.
“Going to get a wall”
Before meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House, Trump wrote on Twitter that “Democrats now own the shutdown.”
That contrasted with what he said during a televised argument with Schumer in the White House on December 11.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country,” Trump said. “I’ll be the one to shut it down.”
Before the House and Senate adjourned, negotiators were discussing $1.6 billion for a range of border security measures – not specifically for a wall – and retaining financial assistance for areas hit by natural disasters that was added by the House, a Republican Senate aide said.
That $1.6 billion would only be $300 million more than the amount the Senate approved in the temporary funding bill that it passed late on Wednesday, only for Trump to reject it.
Trump earlier on Friday had said at the White House that chances of a shutdown “are probably pretty good,” adding, “We’re going to get a wall.”
Trump made a wall along the US-Mexican border to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico.
He sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign. Democrats oppose the wall, calling it unnecessary and ineffective.
Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio expressed frustration with what they said was Trump’s shifting position.
Rubio said that earlier in the week the Republicans went with their funding bill because Pence had told them the White House was open to such a proposal.
“We had a reasonable path and there was every indication from the president that he would sign it,” Alexander said.
In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump called on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to use a “nuclear option” to allow 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 possibility of a government shutdown fed investor anxieties and contributed to another down day for US stocks on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.82 per cent, the S&P 500 lost 2.06 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.99 per cent.
The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign team is also hanging over the White House.
In a shutdown, 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.
More than half of the 1,700 people who work for the executive office of the president would be “furloughed,” meaning they would be put on temporary leave.