A partial federal shutdown took hold early yesterday after Democrats refused to meet US President Donald Trump’s demands for US$5 billion to start erecting his cherished Mexican border wall, a chaotic postscript for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government.
US Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney left the Capitol late on Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise.
“We don’t have a deal. We’re still talking,” US Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby told reporters.
Late on Friday, Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.”
He wrote that US administration officials were “hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration” — an expectation that was widely shared.
With negotiations expected to continue, the White House and US Senate both scheduled rare Saturday sessions. Members of the US House of Representatives were told they would get 24 hours’ notice before a vote.
The gridlock blocks money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the US departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, the Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.
The lack of funds is to disrupt many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. About 420,000 workers have been deemed essential and are to work unpaid just days before Christmas, while 380,000 are to stay home without pay.
Those being furloughed include nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the US Internal Revenue Service. About eight in 10 US National Park Service employees are to stay home and many parks are expected to close.
The US Senate passed legislation ensuring workers would receive back pay, which the US House seemed sure to approve.
Some agencies — including the Pentagon and the US departments of Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services — were already funded for the year in agreements reached earlier, and are to operate as usual.
The US Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, is not affected because it is an independent agency. Social Security checks are still to mailed, US troops are to remain on duty and food inspections are to continue.
The FBI, the US Border Patrol and US Coast Guard are also still functioning. US Transportation Security Administration officers are continuing to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers are to remain at work.
Trump has openly savored a shutdown over the wall for months, saying last week that he would be “proud” to have one and saying on Friday he was “totally prepared for a very long” closure.
While many of the US Congress’ most conservative Republicans were welcoming such a confrontation, most Republican lawmakers have wanted to avoid one, as polling shows the public broadly opposes the wall and a shutdown over it.
Initial Republican reaction to the shutdown was muted.
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