US govt may shut down for very long time, warns Trump

Senate unlikely to pass short-term funding Bill that US leader insists must include $7b to build border wall

WASHINGTON • The US government was yesterday headed for a partial shutdown unless President Donald Trump and Congress cut a deal in their long-running battle over Mr Trump's demand for a border wall with Mexico, with the President signalling he was prepared to close down the government "for a very long time".

Funding for a range of federal agencies is set to expire at midnight yesterday.

The Republican-led Senate had already approved a measure to fund the government until Feb 8 without the wall funds.

But Mr Trump pushed Republican allies in the House of Representatives on Thursday to use the short-term funding Bill as leverage to force through US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) for the border wall despite Democratic objections.

In a series of early-morning tweets yesterday, Mr Trump called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended Bill from the House to prevent the shutdown.

But approving the spending legislation would require Democratic support to reach the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.

"Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything," Mr Trump tweeted. "He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen."

He added: "If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don't want Open Borders and Crime!"

The Senate is expected to reject that legislation - leaving the government without the needed funding for agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Agriculture Department, which would have to pare staff down to those deemed "essential" to public safety.

Three-quarters of government programmes are fully funded until next Sept 30, including those carried out by the Defence Department, Labour Department and Health and Human Services.

On Wednesday, there had appeared to be bipartisan agreement to avoid the shutdown without providing Mr Trump with his border wall money.

But on Thursday afternoon, Mr Trump summoned the House of Representatives' Republican leaders to the White House and insisted that deal be scuttled.

The House late on Thursday did just that when it bowed to Mr Trump's demand that any temporary funding Bill include wall funding. If that measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats there have pledged to prevent it from getting the votes it needs for passage.

"The Bill that's on the floor of the House, everyone knows will not pass the Senate," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters late on Thursday.

It was not yet clear what would happen in that case. The partial government shutdown could begin, or lawmakers could work to find a solution that Mr Trump finds acceptable.

Mr Trump believes the border wall is a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign and said last week in a White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders that he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security".

Democrats have used those words to blame any shutdown on the President, believing it would hurt him politically.

Workers in the government departments affected by a shutdown will still perform their duties if their work is deemed as essential.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, would run out of funding if Congress and Mr Trump do not act, but its border agents and those working in the interior of the country would still be on the job because their work is deemed essential.

Workers classified as not essential to public safety at the unfunded agencies would be put on temporary leave. Both they and essential employees would not get pay cheques until the dispute is resolved.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'US govt may shut down for very long time, warns Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe