Senate blocks measures to end US shutdown, temporary solution eyed

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest by Federal employees in Washington, on Jan 23, 2019.
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest by Federal employees in Washington, on Jan 23, 2019.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Two competing measures to end the partial US government shutdown fell short in the Senate on Thursday (Jan 24), as lawmakers explored an option to end a month-long impasse with the White House and fund government operations for three weeks while talks continue.

A Bill backed by Republican President Donald Trump to end the shutdown by funding the wall he wants to build on the US-Mexico border and a separate Bill supported by Democrats to reopen shuttered agencies without such funding did not get the votes required to advance in the 100-member chamber.

Immediately following the failed effort, Democratic and Republican senators spoke on the Senate floor and urged quick passage of a three-week, stopgap funding Bill to end the partial government shutdown for now. Some Democrats pledged to support more border security funding than was included in the Democrats’ Bill that was blocked in the Senate on Thursday.

But the White House issued a warning. A three-week funding Bill would “only work if there is a large down payment on the wall,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said a measure to temporarily reopen shuttered federal agencies would be unveiled later on Thursday to end the 34-day shutdown, which was triggered by Trump’s demand for money to fund a wall.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he had spoken to Trump about a three-week funding Bill.

“All of us believe if we have three weeks with the government open that we could find a way forward to produce a Bill that he would sign, that would be good for everybody in the country,” Graham said on the Senate floor.

“To my Democratic friends, money for a barrier is required to get this deal done.”

Trump has touted Republican unity during the longest shutdown in US history.

But in a sign of cracks in that resolve, or a desire for compromise, six Republican senators voted with Democrats on their measure to temporarily reopen government agencies without money for Trump’s wall. They included freshman Senator Mitt Romney, his party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

“Democrats have said they’re not willing to negotiate unless the government’s open. Well they tried their effort. I voted for it. It didn’t happen. Now they’ve got to negotiate,” Romney said.

‘LET THEM EAT CAKE?’ 

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters earlier she was willing to meet with Trump to discuss the shutdown.

Her comments came one day after she essentially withdrew an invitation for Trump to give his State of the Union in the House chamber next Tuesday, saying that would not happen until the shutdown ended.

 

Trump, who had planned to come despite the shutdown and considered giving the speech at another venue, conceded late on Wednesday and said he would deliver the speech in the House in the “near future.”

Trump has said he wants US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) for a border barrier, opposed by Democrats, as part of any legislation to fund about a quarter of the federal government for the year.

That demand, and Democrats’ refusal to meet it, has sparked a shutdown of agencies that had not already received federal funding, leaving 800,000 federal workers, as well as private contractors, without pay and struggling to make ends meet, the effects on government services and the economy reverberating nationwide.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday urged furloughed federal workers to seek loans to pay their bills while adding in a CNBC interview that he could not understand why they were having trouble getting by.

Pelosi denounced the comments.

“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude or ‘Call your father for money?’ or ‘This is character building for you?’” Pelosi asked at a news conference.

She said she did not understand why Ross would make the comment “as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second pay cheque tomorrow.” 

Trump responded to Pelosi, without mentioning Ross.

“Nancy just said she ‘just doesn’t understand why?’ Very simply, without a Wall it all doesn’t work. Our Country has a chance to greatly reduce Crime, Human Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs. Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!” he said in a tweet.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found more than half of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown even as he has sought to shift blame to Democrats after saying last month he would be“proud” to close the government for border security.