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US government shutdown: 'Trump temper tantrum' halts work at string of departments after $5bn border wall demand rejected

'There's nothing we can do about that,' says president

Eleanor Busby
Saturday 22 December 2018 11:00 GMT
Donald Trump on the US Government shutdown: 'Call it a democrat shutdown or whatever'

The US government has been forced into a partial shutdown after Democrats refused to meet Donald Trump’s demands for five billion dollars to start erecting a wall on the Mexico border.

The White House halted work at a string of cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no compromise.

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum late on Friday telling them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby told reporters: “We don't have a deal. We're still talking.”

With negotiations expected to continue, the House and Senate both scheduled rare Saturday sessions. House members were told they would get 24 hours' notice before a vote.

The gridlock blocks money for nine of 15 cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies - including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture and State and Justice.

The lack of funds will disrupt many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. 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 will stay home and many parks were expected to close.

However, some agencies, including the Pentagon, were already funded for the year in agreements reached earlier so they will operate as normal.

Meanwhile, the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard will continue to function and Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to staff airport checkpoints.

Mr Trump said on Friday that a partial shutdown of the government would "hopefully not last long", after Republican senators failed to muster the votes needed to approve a funding measure that included $5bn for the border wall.

He said: "We're going to have a shutdown. There's nothing we can do about that because we need the Democrats to give us their votes."

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A joint statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: ”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.“

Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed disappointment at the lack of a deal, and Lamar Alexander said: ”This is a complete failure of negotiations and a success for no one.“

Mr Trump has 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.“

He posted a widely ridiculed image of the proposed structure on Twitter.

The president called Republican senators to the White House on Friday morning, but Republicans said afterwards that the session did not produce a strategy.

Earlier this week, the Senate approved a bipartisan deal keeping government open into February and providing 1.3bn dollars (£1.03bn) for border security projects but not the wall.

In a Republican victory on Thursday, the House rebelled and approved a package temporarily financing the government but also providing 5.7bn dollars (£4.51bn) for the border wall.

However, a Senate procedural vote on Friday afternoon showed that Republicans lacked the 60 votes they would need to force that measure through their chamber.

Additional reporting by AP

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