President Donald Trump temporarily backed down on Friday from a five-week stand-off with the Democrats, ending America’s longest partial government shutdown without getting the funds he demanded for his border wall.
The concession left him politically weakened, with little to show for it on a day his former associate Roger Stone was also charged with witness tampering and other crimes.
Blowback was swift. Democrats claimed victory and hardline conservative commentators decried the abrupt end as a capitulation, pointing out that the short-term deal, which will last until Feb 15, was reached in spite of Mr Trump’s previous insistence that he would not sign any deal that did not include funding for a US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) wall at the US-Mexico border.
The President on his part claimed he had got the Democrats to agree that “barriers, fencing, or walls – or whatever you want to call it – will be an important part of the solution”, as he announced he would sign a Bill to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiating border wall funding.
He hinted that he might declare a national emergency to bypass Congress for wall funding or let the government shut down again, should negotiations fail once more.
“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier. If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb 15 again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” he said at the White House Rose Garden.
The 35-day shutdown had been bruising for the 800,000 federal employees who were put on leave or made to work without pay since Dec 22, and for Mr Trump, who had once promised to own the shutdown.
As it wore on, polls showed that more Americans blamed him for the shutdown than they did the Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The economy and national infrastructure that relied on federal employees also came under increasing strain. Hours before Mr Trump ended the shutdown, airports on the East Coast buckled, delaying or halting flights because of a shortage of air traffic controllers, who called in sick rather than be forced to work without pay.
Thursday’s failure of two Bills in the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-majority Senate, one with wall funding and the other without, underscored the increasing precariousness of Mr Trump’s position as six members of his party broke ranks to vote to reopen the government without the funding.
Frustrated Republican senators also lashed out at Vice-President Mike Pence and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell during a closed-door lunch before the vote on Thursday. Faced with an internal revolt, Mr McConnell telephoned Mr Trump to tell him that the shutdown could not hold, reported the Washington Post.
Senate Democrat minority leader Chuck Schumer told a press conference the agreement ultimately endorsed his party’s position. Criticising the White House, he said: “Shutting down the government over a policy difference is self-defeating. It accomplishes nothing but pain and suffering for the country, and incurs an enormous political cost to the party shutting it down.”
But Mr Trump insisted on Friday night that he had not caved in, writing on Twitter: “This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”
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