US government shutdown drags into fourth week amid stalemate

Jeff Mason, Reuters

Posted at Jan 15 2019 02:18 AM

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Monday rejected a Republican call for temporarily reopening shuttered US government agencies to encourage negotiations with Democrats over border security issues, as a partial government shutdown limped through its 24th day.

About one-quarter of federal government operations have been shut down by a lack of funding since Dec. 22 after Trump demanded $5.7 billion this year from Congress for building a security wall on the southwest US border.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have rejected Trump's demand, as have Senate Democrats who are needed to pass most legislation in the chamber even though Republicans have a majority.

On Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged Trump to reopen the government for a short period of time in an effort to restart talks. It is an idea that Democrats have been urging for weeks.

"Well, that was a suggestion that Lindsey made but I did reject it," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Louisiana. "I want to get it solved, I don't want to just delay it."

The partial shutdown is the longest in US history and has seen Trump lurch from one idea to another in an attempt to secure money for building a wall that he argues is needed to secure the United States against illegal immigrants and drugs.

Democrats say there are cheaper, more effective ways of enhancing border security than constructing a wall that could cost well beyond $25 billion. They have offered $1.3 billion for this year in new border security funds to pay for a range of high-tech and other tools at the border.

When he ran for president, Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall but its government has refused. More recently, he has suggested that a renegotiated trade deal with Mexico could bring in the revenues needed to build the wall or that military funds and US soldiers could be utilized.

"NOT LOOKING" AT NATIONAL EMERGENCY

Last week, the administration was looking into the president declaring a "national emergency" and redirecting US Army Corps of Engineers funds to the wall.

On Friday, Trump said he would not immediately take such action and on Monday said, "This is so simple you shouldn't have to. Now I have the absolute legal right to call it but I'm not looking to do that."

Some leading Republicans have publicly opposed the idea, which almost certainly would trigger lawsuits over its legality.

The House last week passed four separate bills to fund and reopen several agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Treasury, the National Park Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trump opposes these bills and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has refused to bring any funding bill up for a vote without the president's support.

"It’s time for you to stop standing in the way of re-opening the government. Let the Senate vote!" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Twitter post directed at Trump on Monday.

In December Trump said he would take responsibility for the shutdown but has since shifted the blame to Democrats. A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the closures, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

The stress from the shutdown became more visible as 800,000 federal employees across the United States missed their first paychecks on Friday. The cut government services also affected travelers as a jump in unscheduled absences among federal airport security screeners forced partial closures of airports in Houston and Miami.

National parks also remain shuttered, food and drug inspections have been curtailed and key economic data is on hold, among other impacts. Federal courts are set to run out of money on Friday.

Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to address a New Orleans gathering of farmers, a key bloc of Trump supporters who have been hit by the shutdown as federal loan and farm aid applications have stalled and key farming and crop data has been delayed.