Shutdown deadline looms as Trump, Democrats fight over wall money

Published December 21, 2018, 7:27 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse

The prospect of an embarrassing Christmastime shutdown of the US government loomed Friday as President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remained far apart on a stopgap funding bill held up by discord over money for a border wall.

The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC as lawmakers and President Donald Trump try to avert a shutdown of parts of the government (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC as lawmakers and President Donald Trump try to avert a shutdown of parts of the government (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

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

If they do not, key agencies will close and many workers will be furloughed right before Christmas without a paycheck.

The sense of turmoil was compounded by a falling stock market and Trump’s abrupt decision to disregard advisers and allies and pull out of Syria and sharply reduce the US troop presence in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, seen as a moderating force for an impulsive president, resigned in protest over the Syria decision and Trump’s approach to international alliances that are at the heart of US foreign policy.

On government funding, Trump reversed course on Thursday and rejected a measure that unanimously passed the Senate and was under consideration in the House.

He appeared to harden his demand for $5 billion in funding for the wall on the US-Mexico border, a pet project he has fought for since he began campaigning for president in 2015.

Republican leaders had planned to pass a so-called continuing resolution (CR) that would fully fund the government until February 8 to allow time for debate about issues including border security.

But with ultra-conservative lawmakers and media personalities effectively demanding that the president stick to his campaign promises, Trump doubled down.

“I’ve made my position very clear. Any measure that funds the government has to include border security,” he said at a White House event.

“Walls work, whether we like it or not,” he added. “They work better than anything.”

Democrats have refused to budge, saying they will not support a spending measure that funds Trump’s 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 appease 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.

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

Senate Democrats were united in opposition as the likely Friday showdown in that chamber loomed. Many senators from both parties have already left Washington for the holidays.

“President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” warned Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, citing shutdown fears, fresh economic woes, and word that Mattis is stepping down in February.

“The bottom line is simple,” he added. “The Trump temper tantrum may produce a government shutdown. It will not get him his wall.”