WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government was headed for a partial shutdown unless President Donald Trump and Congress cut a deal on Friday in their long-running battle over Trump’s demand for a border wall with Mexico, with the president signaling he was prepared to close down the government “for a very long time.”
A pedestrian walk past the U.S. Capitol ahead of a possible partial government shut down in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Funding for a range of federal agencies is set to expire at midnight on Friday.
The Republican-led Senate had already approved a measure to fund the government through Feb. 8 without the wall funds. But Trump pushed Republican allies in the House of Representatives on Thursday to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through $5 billion for the border wall despite Democratic objections.
In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump called on Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House to prevent the shutdown. But approving the spending legislation would require Democratic support to reach the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.
“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything,” Trump tweeted. “He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen.”
“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime!” he said.
The Senate is expected to reject that legislation – leaving the government without funding for agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and Agriculture Department. The agencies would have to pare staff down to those deemed “essential” to public safety.
Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services.
On Wednesday, there had appeared to be bipartisan agreement to avoid the shutdown without providing Trump with his border wall money.
But on Thursday afternoon, Trump summoned the House of Representatives’ Republican leaders to the White House and insisted that deal be scuttled.
The House late Thursday did just that when it bowed to Trump’s demand that any temporary funding bill include wall funding.
If that measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats there have pledged to prevent it from getting the votes it needs for passage.
“The bill that’s on the floor of the House, everyone knows will not pass the Senate,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters late Thursday.
It was not yet clear what would happen in that case. The partial government shutdown could begin, or lawmakers could work to find a solution that Trump finds acceptable.
Trump believes the border wall is a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign and said last week in a White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Democrats have used those words to blame any shutdown on the president, believing it would hurt him politically.
Republicans worry about that too and some tried on Thursday to shift the blame to Democrats.
“Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats now have to decide whether it is worth shutting down the government to keep us from securing our border,” said Kevin McCarthy, leader of Republican lawmakers in the House.
Workers in the affected government departments will still perform their duties if deemed as essential.
The Department of Homeland Security would run out of funding on Friday if Congress and Trump do not act, but its border agents and those working in the interior of the country would still be on the job because their work is deemed essential.
A partial shutdown would force federal parks to close unless the government also declares them an essential service.
Workers classified as not essential to public safety would be put on temporary leave. Both they and essential employees would not get paychecks until the dispute is resolved.
Democrats take control of the House on Jan. 3 following their victory in the midterm elections last month.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly be the new speaker of the House and would likely push through a new temporary funding bill without any money for Trump’s wall, hoping the Republican-controlled Senate would accept it.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kieran Murray, Sam Holmes and Jeffrey Benkoe