Trump seeks to move ahead with State of the Union address despite Nancy Pelosi's shutdown concerns

President Donald Trump's bid to build a US-Mexico border wall and end a month-long partial government shutdown suffered a blow on Tuesday when the US Supreme Court left in place for now a program protecting young illegal immigrants from deportation.
Trump at a White House roundtable discussion in December 2018.
Trump at a White House roundtable discussion in December 2018.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST/ JABIN BOTSFORD

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday attempted to move ahead with planning for a State of the Union speech to the US Congress on Jan 29 despite pressure from Democrats to delay it due to the partial government shutdown.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would bring up Trump's proposal for ending the shutdown - and getting funding for the president's promised border wall - for a vote on Thursday.

The plan was unlikely to pass in the Senate and had even less chance in the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives.

Trump's cause was hurt on Tuesday by a US Supreme Court ruling regarding "Dreamers," people brought illegally to the United States as children and who had been a key bargaining chip for the Republican president in his wall-funding battle.

No clear way was evident to end the shutdown, which began on Dec 22, increasing the anxiety level of 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed with some struggling to make ends meet.

As the fight over the border wall and government funding raged, a sideshow over Trump's upcoming State of the Union speech also boiled over.

A Trump administration official said the president still intends to deliver that speech on Jan 29, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top US Democrat, had recommended he delay it, citing concerns about security for the event with some personnel furloughed during a monthlong shutdown.

An administration official said the White House sought to have pre-speech preparations completed on Capitol Hill.

The request seemed likely to set up another clash between Trump and Pelosi, days after Trump abruptly refused to let her use a US military plane to go on an overseas trip hours before she was to depart.

Aides to Pelosi did not respond to requests for comment on whether Trump's invitation to speak would stand.

On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the government shutdown by fully funding the one-quarter of US agencies that are affected. In return, he would get US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) towards building a southwestern border wall that Democrats oppose.

Trump also is offering to restore temporary protections for the "Dreamer" immigrants.

In 2017, Trump moved to end the Dreamers' protections, triggering a court battle.

Democrats promptly rejected Trump's plan as insufficient, saying they would not trade a temporary restoration of the immigrants' protections in return for a permanent border wall that they view as ineffective.

BARGAINING CHIP

Trump may have lost the Dreamer issue as his main negotiating point on Tuesday when the Supreme Court refused, at least for now, to consider an administration appeal of lower court rulings allowing continued temporary protections for the immigrant youths.

Instead, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme established by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 lives on with or without approval by Congress.

As the Senate debates Trump's proposal, House Democrats this week are pushing legislation that would end the partial shutdown of agencies including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, Labour and Interior.

While their legislation would contain new border security money, there would be nothing for a wall, ensuring Trump's opposition.

Once the government reopens, Democrats said, they would negotiate with Trump on further border security ideas.

"We were optimistic that he might be open up government so we could have this discussion," Pelosi told reporters in comments carried by CNN.

"But then we heard what the particulars were in it and it was a non-starter, unfortunately."

Representative Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, welcomed any effort by the Republican-led Senate to debate and vote on legislation to reopen the government following that chamber's monthlong abstention.

"This gets us started," Clyburn told MSNBC in an interview.

There were no guarantees that votes by Congress this week actually would break the impasse, as Trump held firm on his US$5.7 billion demand and Democrats said they would not talk about that until the government reopens.

The shutdown's impact was being felt at the Federal Bureau of Investigations with the FBI Agents Association saying investigations involving possible financial crimes, drugs and terrorism were being hindered by a lack of funds.

Many federal employees and contractors were turning to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support as the shutdown entered its second month. Others began seeking new jobs.