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Monday, March 27, 2023

Border wall funding deadlock shuts down US government

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America’s elected leaders have partially closed down the US government over their inability to compromise on money for a wall along the Mexican border.

Congressional Democrats are refusing to accede to President Donald Trump’s demands for 5 billion US dollars (£3.9 billion) to start building his long-promised barrier, and the stalemate is a chaotic finale for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government.

Vice President Mike Pence, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney left the Capitol late on Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise.

Mr Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown”, although he wrote that administration officials are “hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration”. Both the House and Senate have scheduled rare Saturday sessions.

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

The disruption affects many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees.

About 420,000 workers are deemed essential and will work unpaid throughout the shutdown. An additional 380,000 will be told to stay at home without pay.

Federal employees had already been granted an extra day of holiday on Christmas Eve, thanks to an executive order Mr Trump signed this week. The president did not go to Florida on Friday as planned for his own Christmas break.

Workers being told to stay at home unpaid until the impasse is resolved include nearly everyone at Nasa and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded and will operate as usual.

The US Postal Service, busy delivering Christmas packages, will not be affected because it is an independent agency. Social security cheques will be sent as usual, troops will remain on duty and food inspections will continue.

Also still functioning will be the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers will be on the job.

Mr Trump has savoured the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months. Last week he said he would be “proud” to close down the government, and on Friday said he was “totally prepared for a very long” closure.

Many of Congress’s most conservative Republicans welcomed such a confrontation, but most GOP politicians have wanted to avoid one because polling shows the public broadly opposes the wall and a shutdown over it.

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Mr 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”.

Mr Trump had made clear last week that he would not blame Democrats for any closure. Now, he and his GOP allies have spent the past few days saying Democrats bear responsibility.

The president said now is the time for Congress to provide taxpayers’ money for the wall, even though he has long claimed Mexico would pay for it. Mexico repeatedly has rebuffed that idea.

“This is our only chance that we’ll ever have, in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security,” Mr Trump said on Friday.

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