US shutdown enters Day 3 as Senate split persists

A notice at the Liberty State ferry terminal at New York's Battery Park on Sunday announcing the closure of the Statue of Liberty as part of the US government shutdown.
A notice at the Liberty State ferry terminal at New York's Battery Park on Sunday announcing the closure of the Statue of Liberty as part of the US government shutdown.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Bipartisan group working feverishly to break impasse over migrants programme

WASHINGTON • A US government shutdown entered its third day yesterday after Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise between federal government spending and a Democrat demand for young undocumented migrants known as "Dreamers" to be protected from deportation.

For much of Sunday, feverish work by a bipartisan group of senators offered a reason for cautious optimism that a deal could be reached soon. By Sunday night, Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, the majority leader, moved to delay a procedural vote he had called on a temporary spending Bill - a signal that talks were progressing.

The Senate was set to vote at noon yesterday on advancing a measure to provide temporary government funding through Feb 8, end the shutdown and allow hundreds of thousands of federal employees to return to work.

"Let's step back from the brink," Mr McConnell said. "Let's stop victimising the American people and get back to work on their behalf."

Mr McConnell offered a concession to Democrats by saying it was his intention to permit a Senate vote on an immigration measure after Feb 8 if the the government was still funded.

But Senate Democrats gave no immediate sign that they would get on board with the temporary spending Bill, leaving open the possibility of another failed vote that could further deepen the partisan divide three days into the shutdown.

"We have yet to reach an agreement on a path forward that would be acceptable for both sides," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said shortly after 9pm on Sunday, adding that talks would continue.

Any deal would most likely need the support of around a dozen Senate Democrats, as the chamber's procedural rules require 60 votes.

With elections set for November for a third of US Senate seats and the entire House of Representatives, both sides are manoeuvring to blame the other for the shutdown.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California told colleagues that the chamber will take up whatever the Senate passes, according to a Republican House member.

At the weekend, President Donald Trump remained off stage as lawmakers shuttled back and forth to try to reach an agreement.

Mr Trump did make some phone calls on Sunday, speaking with the second-ranking Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress about the impasse, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement e-mailed to reporters on Sunday.

"We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants while Senator Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for millions of Americans and our troops hostage," Ms Sanders said.

The President otherwise remained uncharacteristically quiet, heeding the advice of senior advisers who argued that he has the upper hand over Mr Schumer and the Democrats, and that they would soon be forced to capitulate.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake, part of a bipartisan working group pushing for legislation to replace the Dreamers programme, told reporters that Mr McConnell was still six or seven Democratic votes short of breaking the impasse that led to the shutdown.

While public reaction to the shutdown may have been muted at the weekend, Mr Flake said Republicans would suffer politically in the long run. "If it comes back to bite, it comes back to bite pretty hard," the Arizona senator predicted.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'US shutdown enters Day 3 as Senate split persists'. Print Edition | Subscribe