Shutdown could go on ‘for years’, say Democrats

Shutdown could go on ‘for years’, say Democrats

Donald Trump threatened to keep the United States government shut for “months or even years” as White House talks again failed to find a way out of the impasse on Friday.

Mr Trump warned senior Democrats during the meeting that he was prepared to let the closure of key government agencies continue if he did not get funding for his border wall.

“We told the President we needed the government open,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after the second meeting in three days. “He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Mr Trump confirmed to reporters in the White House Rose Garden he had made that statement. “I did, I did,” he said. “I don’t think it will but I think I can speak for Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House … they feel very strongly about having a safe country, about having a border that makes sense.”

He called the talks “very productive”, but Democrats described it as “contentious” as the government prepares to enter its third week of partial shutdown on Saturday.

A quarter of government agencies are currently partially shut and 800,000 workers going without pay after politicians failed to agree new funding bills on December 21, because of disagreement over whether to include $US5 billion ($A7 billion) for Mr Trump’s border wall.

With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, some hoped Republicans might agree to pass legislation without funding for the wall on the US-Mexico border, one of the President’s key promises.

Democrats are only willing to provide $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for border security, including a fence rather than a wall.

New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said called it a “lengthy and sometimes contentious” meeting.

“We’re not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we’re not doing a wall?” she said on Thursday night.

The House of Representatives passed two stopgap measures aimed at reopening the government without providing funding for the wall. Several Republicans crossed over to join them.

But the Senate has indicated it will not pass legislation that the President will not sign into law.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, Mr Trump wrote to both parties: “Walls work. That’s why rich, powerful, and successful people build them around their homes. All Americans deserve the same protection.”

The long meeting ended with little progress, as 800,000 federal employees remain on leave without pay, or working without pay if they are considered “essential” staff.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said even though the new Congress has convened since the last session at the White House, “the basic steps that are needed to end this unfortunate standoff really haven’t changed at all.”

He has said measures approved by the House are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the President’s support.

“Any viable compromise will need to carry the endorsement of the president before it receives a vote,” he said.

But some Republican senators — particularly those up for reelection in 2020 — are demanding a solution.

Colorado senator Cory Gardner said Congress should pass bipartisan bills to fund the government “while we continue to fight for more border security money.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, who is close to Mr Trump, said he had spoken to the President on Thursday about a potential compromise package.

It would include border wall money as well as a legal option for young immigrants in the US illegally but working or attending school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Mr Trump ended the “Dreamers” program, but a lawsuit to allow it to continue is making its way through the courts.

“He’s open-minded to this,” Mr Graham said in an interview, but he said the President “hasn’t committed.”

Mr Trump was previously opposed to the compromise, and Ms Pelosi has also said she was against the idea, believing the wall is immoral.

Maine senator Susan Collins said her “goal is to get government reopened as quickly as possible.”

The GOP senator added: “We have bipartisan agreements on six of the remaining funding bills, and I’d like to see those signed into law.

“Negotiations on border security should continue while a stopgap funding resolution is approved for the Department of Homeland Security.”

Mr Schumer said Senate Republicans needed to help prevent the US entering the disaster zone.

“The President needs an intervention,” he said. “And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene.”

With key departments and agencies shut, uncertainty in the stock market and basic services on hold, things are set to get much worse.

On Thursday, Mr Trump made a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room, pledging to keep up the fight for his signature campaign promise. “You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want,” he said. “But essentially we need protection in our country. We’re going to make it good. The people of our country want it.”

Asked if she would give Mr Trump $1 for a wall to reopen the government, Ms Pelosi said: “One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”

Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.

White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make both a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a crisis point that demands more money than Democrats have offered.

Mr Trump tweeted an ominous video Thursday with images of what appeared to be migrants trying to rush the border and clashing with law enforcement, beneath the words “crisis at the border,” “drugs” and “crime.”

The video concludes with footage of Mr Trump at the border along with audio from one of his rallies in which he vows to build his promised border wall and the crowd chants “Build the wall!”

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