No Christmas miracle expected as US gov’t shutdown looms

AFP , Friday 21 Dec 2018

A US government shutdown appeared more and more likely to become a reality Friday just before Christmas, with President Donald Trump threatening a "very long" federal work stoppage unless Democrats agree to his border wall demands.

An air of chaos hung over Washington as a midnight deadline rapidly approached for lawmakers and the president to find a way to accomplish a very basic task: keep the government up and running.

But hopes were dwindling that a deal might be struck before dozens of US agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and State Department are forced to cease operations.

Thousands of federal employees could be furloughed right before the end-of-year holidays without a paycheck.

They include workers at the Departments of Justice, Agriculture and Transportation, as well as at several smaller agencies.

Official preparations for the partial shutdown were reportedly underway, but with many federal workers scheduled to be off Monday and Tuesday for the Christmas holiday, there was broad uncertainty about how and when plans would be carried out.

The sense of turmoil was compounded by a falling stock market, Trump's abrupt decision to disregard advisors and allies and pull out of Syria, and the shock resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, seen as a moderating force for an impulsive president.

Trump lit up Twitter early Friday with dire warnings of upcoming upheaval -- and a clear resolve not to give in.

"Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security!" Trump fumed.

"The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED," 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!"

Democrats savaged Trump for reversing course Thursday and rejecting a measure that had unanimously passed the Senate and was under consideration in the House.

It would have extended government funding until February 8, but contained no money for a wall on the US-Mexico border, a pet project Trump has fought for since he began campaigning for president in 2015.

With ultra-conservative lawmakers and media personalities effectively demanding that the president stick to his campaign promises, Trump doubled down on his demand for $5 billion in wall funding.

"Walls work, whether we like it or not," he said Thursday. "They work better than anything."


- 'Stupid wall' -

Democrats have refused to budge, saying they will not support a spending measure that funds the wall.

"That's a non-starter," said top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi. "I think they know that."

Republicans nevertheless soldiered on, crafting a new measure that would fulfill the president's demands. It includes $5.7 billion in border wall funding, and $7.8 billion in disaster relief.

The bill passed the House, but with no Democratic support.

It appears to be dead on arrival in the 100-member Senate, where bills need 60 votes to advance and Republicans control 51 seats.

A showdown in the upper chamber was expected, but as of late morning, a vote had yet to be scheduled, and many senators from both parties have already left Washington for the holidays.

One Democrat who made a U-turn back to the capital was unimpressed.

"Wheels down IAD (Dulles airport near Washington) ready to vote no on this stupid wall," Senator Brian Schatz tweeted.

The administration was eyeing a Christmas miracle.

"We are very hopeful that the Senate will come through and help protect the American people," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News.

"We need a wall and border security," she added. "And the president is going to stand firm and make sure that that happens, one way or another."

She also confirmed that in the event of a shutdown, Trump would stay in Washington and postpone his trip to Florida, where he was set to spend the Christmas holiday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was sowing "chaos" in Washington and that a presidential retreat was the only way to end the stalemate.

"The Trump temper tantrum may produce a government shutdown," Schumer said late Thursday. "It will not get him his wall."

The US government endured two brief shutdowns in early 2018.

A far more crippling shutdown in 2013 lasted 16 days, with about 800,000 federal workers furloughed amid a fight over funding Barack Obama's health care reforms.

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