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United States

Government shutdown is damaging the US’ reputation globally, and Trump, Pelosi and McConnell should be ashamed

  • Chi Wang says government workers are going to food banks and America’s reputation is plummeting globally while Republicans and Democrats play politics and disregard opportunities for compromise
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2019, 3:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2019, 6:22am

I lived through many US government shutdowns in my nearly 50 years as a federal employee at the Library of Congress and State Department.

Yet I never imagined a shutdown lasting this long, and I cannot fathom how the leadership in Congress and the White House could allow it to continue. That the United States could disrespect its government employees in such a manner is egregious.

As both sides stubbornly hold out and disregard opportunities for compromise, federal employees are struggling to cover basic living expenses like rent and groceries.

Proud federal institutions like the Federal Bureau of Investigation have resorted to starting food banks for their employees. President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should be ashamed for allowing the country to get to such a state.

There is no clear end in sight. Trump has made it clear he will not compromise on his desire for funding to build a wall on the southern border. Pelosi has likewise refused to budge from her assertion that Democrats in the House will never concede to this demand.

McConnell has fallen in line behind the president, seemingly uninterested in seeking an alternative measure that could open the government without funding for the wall.

Lost in the mix are those most affected by the shutdown: the workers who have been granted leave of absence without pay for over a month and the countless other individuals and businesses affected by the ripple effect of shuttering part of the government.

This was not how the Founding Fathers intended America’s government to function. The White House and Congress, along with the Supreme Court, were intended to be equal branches.

While the president is the chief executive, a unified Congress was supposed to act as a check on his power and as a body capable of reflecting the interests of the nation at large.

In this respect Trump, Pelosi and McConnell have all failed.

Trump views Congress not as an equal branch, but as a means to an end. He treats Republicans in Congress like a weapon he can wield to enact his agenda and Democrats as an obstacle to be avoided, overruled and outsmarted.

He values party loyalty among Republicans above all else; valid economic and moral concerns regarding the border wall do not appear important to him.

US government shutdown turns world upside down

Pelosi has allowed the debate over the border wall to mutate into a broader condemnation of the Trump presidency.

Her childish decision to disinvite Trump to deliver his State of the Union address on January 29 has all but guaranteed that the shutdown will persist until at least that date. She has only broadened the partisan divide in the conflict.

If she truly cared about the 800,000 workers who have been furloughed or are working without pay, she would seek a realistic compromise with her Republican counterparts, even if that meant allocating funding for the wall.

If the wall is really as infeasible and unrealistic as she claims, let Trump and his administration discover that for themselves.

McConnell has willingly allowed the White House to all but take over his agenda for the Senate. McConnell has the power to end the shutdown by putting to a vote a compromise bill.

If 67 senators vote in favour of such a bill, Congress could end the shutdown without intervention from the White House and without Trump being able to use his veto power.

Yet McConnell does not seem to want to use Congress as it was intended. That he has failed to endorse or support attempts to compromise has shown that Republicans in Congress are willing to relinquish their branch’s autonomy to serve the president’s agenda.

But Republicans do not bear all the blame for the shutdown. If Democrats were fully committed to ending it, it would have already ended; that three Democrat senators have launched 2020 presidential campaigns since the start of the shutdown shows that Democrats have not been entirely focused on ending it.

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Trump has also failed the American people by allowing the shutdown to occur and continue. His insistence on a border wall is purely an appeal to his political base, as countless experts have strongly questioned or flatly rejected the notion that such a wall is even feasible.

Regardless of whether his wall is in the best interest of the American people, the shutdown is not. The best thing he could do for the country is to end it.

However this shutdown ends, it has gone on for so long that it will not be forgotten, as Trump had hoped it would be. Its duration, regardless of how it ultimately ends, will shape the legacies of the key figures involved – especially Trump, Pelosi and McConnell.

Republicans and Democrats alike, both in Congress and the White House, should recognise compromise is not only the clear path out of the shutdown, but their responsibility to the American people.

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Americans are not the only ones watching this shutdown with outrage, confusion and a growing sense of uncertainty. In my 70 years living in the US, the nation has prided itself on being respected internationally.

But how can we expect the world to respect the US, or take seriously its ambitions abroad, when it cannot even function properly domestically?

As a first-generation Chinese-American, I find this shocking. Trump has set lofty goals abroad for his administration in 2019 – he seeks an end to the trade war with China, plans to again meet Kim Jong-un and has taken a sharp stance against the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.

If he wants these plans to succeed, he must understand that the shutdown is severely damaging not only his reputation, but that of the US.

Chi Wang, a former head of the Chinese section of the US Library of Congress and former university librarian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is president of the US-China Policy Foundation