In fight over border wall, Trump, Congress, stumble into partial shutdown

With Congressional leaders unable to reach agreement on a short term funding plan because of differences over President Donald Trump's demand for billions of dollars to fund construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, about a quarter of the federal government was heading into a shutdown mode on Friday night, impacting as many as 800,000 federal workers just before Christmas.

"This is a large portion of the federal workforce," complained Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), whose state is home to thousands of federal employees who would be furloughed during a funding lapse.

But even after an afternoon of high level talks at the U.S. Capitol, which involved Vice President Mike Pence, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner, lawmakers seemed no closer to an agreement on a funding plan.

"I hope Senate Democrats will work with the White House," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who held open a vote for over five hours to get Senators back to the Capitol, simply to officially start debate on a House plan which has $5.7 billion for a border wall, and an addition $7.8 billion in emergency disaster relief.

Democrats said the reason there was no deal was with President Trump's insistence on border wall money.

"His wall does not have 50 votes in the Senate, let alone 60 votes," declared Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

The House adjourned for the day at 6:56 pm, and the Senate followed suit at 8:08 pm, guaranteeing that no new legislation could be approved before midnight to avert a shutdown, as Senators were being told they would get as much as a 24-hour notice before having to return for any votes on an agreement.

As for the President, he made it clear Friday that he was not backing off his demand for border wall funding.

"We're totally prepared for a very long shutdown," the President told reporters at a bill signing in the Oval Office.

"Now it's up to the Democrats as to whether we have a shutdown tonight," Mr. Trump added, as both sides tried to place the blame for the funding lapse on each other.

President Trump was scheduled to leave for his Florida retreat on Friday afternoon; instead, he sent his family ahead, and stayed behind for the negotiations.

There was no apparent momentum to get a deal - as the calendar also may work against a quick agreement, with Monday and Tuesday being federal holidays.

In a conference call for employees at the Commerce Department, workers were told that because the shutdown is starting on a Saturday, they would not have to come into work until Wednesday to go through their shutdown actions.

There also won't be an immediate impact here in the nation's capital, where the Smithsonian Institute announced that all of their museums would stay open through at least January 1, even without action by the Congress on funding.

"Over the holiday period, the museums will remain open as usual, except on Christmas Day, which is the only day of the year that the Smithsonian museums traditionally close," officials announced on Friday.

As for national parks around the country, many of them will be open, but staff will not be in place, and gift shops and bathroom facilities will be closed.

Some on Capitol Hill believe this could be a lengthy shutdown, as Democrats take charge of the House on January 3.

The last time there was an extended end-of-year shutdown was in 1995, when a partial government shutdown stretched for three weeks from December 16, 1995 through January 6, 1996.

About the Author