US govt partially shuts down over border wall row

WASHINGTON • An air of chaos enveloped Washington yesterday as the US government kicked off the holidays by partially shutting down, following the failure of leaders to pass a federal spending Bill as negotiations stalled over President Donald Trump’s demand for money to build a US-Mexico border wall.

Operations for several key agencies ceased at 12.01am yesterday (1.01pm Singapore time) despite last-ditch talks that continued on Capitol Hill between White House officials and congressional leaders of both parties.

Most critical security functions remain operational, but 800,000 federal workers are affected, with many being furloughed – put on temporary leave – just days before Christmas, while others deemed essential are working unpaid.

Some national parks have shuttered completely during this year-end holiday season, while others remain open but without any visitor services including restrooms and maintenance.

Air traffic controllers and federal airline safety inspectors will remain on the job.

The budget wrangling and subsequent shutdown – the third in a year – cast a dark cloud over the US capital, already reeling from Defence Secretary James Mattis’ resignation announcement last Thursday.

The uncertainty pushed Wall Street into a third straight rout on Friday, to end its worst week since late 2008 at the start of the global financial crisis.

“President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown,” Mr Chuck Schumer, the top opposition Democrat in the Senate, and his House counterpart, fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said in a joint statement.

Mr Trump has dug in on his demand for US$5 billion (S$6.9 billion) for construction of a wall to curb illegal immigration on the US border with Mexico. Democrats are staunchly opposed, and the absence of an elusive deal means federal funds for dozens of agencies lapsed at midnight on Friday.

The House of Representatives and the Senate were due back in session at noon yesterday.

But it remains unclear how long the shutdown will last.

“This is a dereliction of duty by Congress and the President,” said Mr David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Mr Trump voiced hope late on Friday that it “will not last long” – after earlier saying he was ready for just that.

His own Republican Party still controls both the House and Senate, but next month the House comes under Democratic control.

About three-quarters of the government, including the military and the Department of Health and Human Services, are fully funded until the end of September next year, leaving 25 per cent unfunded as of yesterday.

Most Nasa employees will be sent home, as will Commerce Department workers and many at the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture and State.

“It’s up to the Democrats whether or not we have a shutdown tonight,” Mr Trump said earlier on Friday, blaming his political opponents for the crisis.

“I hope we don’t,” the President said, adding: “We’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown.”

Mr Trump reversed course on Thursday and rejected a measure that had unanimously passed the Senate and was under House consideration.

It would have extended government funding until Feb 8, but contained no money for a border wall – a pet project Mr Trump has fought for since his presidential campaign. He was scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for his Christmas break, but has postponed the trip.



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