Trump threatens ‘very long’ U.S. government shutdown

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, Illinois, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened a “very long” government shutdown just hours ahead of a midnight deadline, calling on the Senate to pass spending legislation with his $5 billion demand for border wall funding and seeking to shift blame for a holiday showdown to Democrats.

The Republican-led Senate already had approved funds for the government through Feb. 8 without money for the wall. But on Thursday Trump pushed fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through the border wall money despite Democratic objections.

In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House. Trump, who last week said he would be “proud” to preside over a shutdown, sought to blame Senate Democrats, whose support is needed to reach the 60 votes needed for passage.

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

He also urged McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with a simple majority, rather than the standard “supermajority” of 60 votes. McConnell has so far resisted doing that, and Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Orrin Hatch indicated on Friday that they would not support it.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Friday told reporters at the White House that Trump is “not going to back down on this fight.” She said Senate Republicans would meet with Trump at the White House at 10:30 a.m. (1730 GMT) and McConnell confirmed he would attend.

The threat of a U.S. government shutdown continued to fuel investor anxieties on Friday over the trajectory of global economic growth as world stocks extended a steep sell-off.

TENSE TIMES

The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign, and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won.

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.

But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and Agriculture Department, is set to expire at midnight on Friday. A shutdown would leave a number of federal workers without a paycheck at Christmas.

If the House measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have pledged to deny its passage.

The Senate was set to convene at noon EST (1700 GMT) and it remained unclear what would happen if the House measure fails there.

The partial government shutdown could begin, with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety. Such critical workers, including U.S. border agents, and non-essential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.

Alternatively, lawmakers could seek a solution that Trump finds acceptable, although it was unclear what that would be.

Sanders said Trump would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned, but said she hoped the Senate would not vote down the bill.

“We hope they’ll step up,” she told reporters.

Asked how long any potential shutdown would last, she added: “Let’s hope that that doesn’t have to happen.”

Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Coons on Friday said he hoped Trump would change course and support the Senate-passed bill, which includes funds for border security but not specifically for the wall.

“This is a fight more over message and the president trying to fulfill a campaign promise rather than substance,” Coons told CNN in an interview on Friday.

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