Donald Trump

US government heads for shutdown after lawmakers fail to make deal

  • Last week Donald Trump had said he would be ‘proud’ to shut the government, and ‘I’ll be the one to shut it down’
  • House adjourned without Congress passing a spending deal, assuring a partial shutdown, with Trump and lawmakers at odds over border wall funding
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 1:40am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 11:11am

The US House of Representatives adjourned on Friday without Congress passing a spending deal, assuring a partial government shutdown at midnight local time as President Donald Trump and lawmakers remain at odds over border wall funding.

Earlier, Trump met Republican senators after threatening a “very long” government shutdown just hours before the midnight deadline, demanding the border wall funding and trying to shift blame to Democrats.

Operations for several key agencies will cease in the early hours of Saturday, despite last-ditch talks that continued on Capitol Hill between White House officials and congressional leaders in both parties.

It remained unclear how long the shutdown will last. But the optics are bad, as hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be either furloughed or forced to work without pay in the run up to the Christmas holiday.

The House is due back in session at noon on Saturday.

The Senate meanwhile remained open late on Friday, but there were no signs yet of a breakthrough, and the chamber was quiet.

Senators told reporters that congressional leaders from both parties were negotiating behind the scenes with White House officials including Vice-President Mike Pence, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

One focus of discussion was the US$1.6 billion in border security funding that was a part of pending Senate legislation, number two Senate Republican John Cornyn said.

“There’s no agreement,” congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus of ultra-conservatives, told reporters as he made his way from Senate meetings to the House.

Republican Senator Bob Corker bluntly said, “The US$5 billion is not going to pass.”

Trump tweeted that he hopes the impending government shutdown will not be a long one.

“The shutdown hopefully will not last long,” Trump said in a video post on his Twitter account.

The Senate, where Republicans have only a 51-49 majority, already had approved funds for the government until February 8 but without money for the wall. On Thursday Trump pushed fellow Republicans in the House to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through the border wall money despite Democratic objections.

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In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House.

Last week Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue of border security and “I’ll be the one to shut it down.” But on Friday he shifted the responsibility, saying on Twitter, “The Democrats now own the shutdown!”

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he said in another tweet. “Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything … He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen.”

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He also urged McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force 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 threat of a US government shutdown, which would leave thousands of federal workers idled at Christmas, continued to fuel investor anxieties on Friday over the trajectory of global economic growth as world stocks extended a steep sell-off.

The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defence Secretary James Mattis to resign, and furthered concerns over the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump won.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was “not going to back down on this fight” and would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned.

Asked how long any potential shutdown would last, Sanders said: “Let’s hope that that doesn’t have to happen.”

Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons on Friday said he hoped Trump would change course and support the Senate-passed bill, which includes funds for border security but not specifically for the wall.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse