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US government shutdown: Billions for border wall will 'never' pass Senate vote, Democrats tell Trump

'If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple,' says Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer

Peter Stubley
Saturday 22 December 2018 22:11 GMT
US government shutdown: Billions for border wall will 'never' pass Senate vote, Chuck Schumer tells Donald Trump

Donald Trump has been told to drop his demands for $5.7bn (£4.5bn) to build a wall along the border with Mexico if he wants to end the government shutdown.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said the US president’s proposal – which was central to his election campaign – would “never” pass a vote.

“President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple,” he said.

Mr Schumer said Democrats supported proposals for $1.3bn for border security “as long as they don’t include funding for the wall”. He added they were open to further discussion with Mr Trump.

“The Trump shutdown is not about border security,” he told the floor of the Senate. “It’s because President Trump is demanding billions of dollars for an expensive, ineffective wall that the majority of Americans don’t support.

“It will never pass the Senate, not today, not next week, not next year.”

Mr Schumer also claimed that Mr Trump had agreed to previous proposals, only to change his mind after being criticised by allies on the “far right”.

It came after the president said the shutdown – which has so far affected one quarter of the federal government – “could be a long stay”.

Both the House and Senate returned to business for a rare weekend session as talks continued between congressional leaders and the White House.

However, no votes are scheduled on Saturday and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said any deal to re-open government would need Democratic support and Trump’s signature to be signed into law.

On Saturday, Mr Trump tweeted: “I am in the White House, working hard. News reports concerning the Shutdown and Syria are mostly FAKE. We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security (Gangs, Drugs, Human Trafficking & more) but it could be a long stay.”

The president has given different opinions on the wall and the shutdown over time. During his presidential campaign he said he would force Mexico to pay for the wall.

Most recently, however, he said he would accept money for a ”Steel Slat Barrier“ with spikes on the top, which he said would be just as effective as a “wall” and “at the same time beautiful”.

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that 43 per cent of registered voters supported building the wall and 54 per cent opposed it.

Democrat leaders said Mr Trump’s “remarkable two-week temper tantrum” was to blame for the shutdown. “This may have been the most chaotic week of what’s undoubtedly the most chaotic presidency ever in the history of the United States,” said Mr Schumer.

In a joint statement with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Mr Schumer added: “Instead of honouring his responsibility to the American people, President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump shutdown in the middle of the holiday season.”

The gridlock blocks money for nine of 15 cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies – including transportation, agriculture, and state and justice.

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Around 420,000 workers will work unpaid just days before Christmas, while 380,000 will be given a leave of absence, meaning they will stay home without pay. Those being given a leave of absence include nearly everyone at Nasa and around eight in 10 employees of the National Park Service.

However virtually every essential government agency, including the FBI, Border Patrol and Coast Guard, will remain open. Nearly all of the Department of Homeland Security’s 240,000 employees will be at work and the air traffic control system, food inspection, and Medicare programs will run as usual.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which is investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, is also unaffected.

The government shutdown is set to last until after Christmas after the Senate adjourned on Saturday without a deal being reached.

The Senate is due to hold a brief “pro forma” session on Christmas Eve but the next full session is not scheduled until 27 December.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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