Trump dithers as shut­down breaks record

U.S. gov­ern­ment re­mains par­tially closed as wall-fund­ing im­passe con­tin­ues


WASH­ING­TON — As the par­tial U.S. gov­ern­ment shut­down slipped into the record books Satur­day as the long­est ever, mem­bers of Congress were out of town, no ne­go­ti­a­tions were sched­uled and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted into the void.

He did not tip his hand on whether he will move ahead with an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion that could break the im­passe, free up money for his wall with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval and kick off le­gal chal­lenges and a po­lit­i­cal storm over the use of that ex­tra­or­di­nary step. A day ear­lier, he said he was not ready to do it “right now.”

Law­mak­ers are due back in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., from their states and con­gres­sional dis­tricts in the new week.

Trump fired off a se­ries of tweets push­ing back against the no­tion that he doesn’t have a strat­egy to end what be­came the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in U.S. his­tory when it en­tered its 22nd day on Satur­day.

“Elec­tions have con­se­quences!” he de­clared, mean­ing the 2016 elec­tion in which “I promised safety and se­cu­rity” and, as part of that, a bor­der wall.

But there was an­other elec­tion, in Novem­ber, and the con­se­quence of that is that Democrats now con­trol the House and they refuse to give Trump money for a wall.

Trump threat­ened anew that the shut­down could con­tinue in­def­i­nitely.

He says he will sign leg­is­la­tion that has been passed by Congress to pro­vide back pay for some 800,000 fed­eral work­ers who aren’t be­ing paid dur­ing the shut­down. Pay­cheques were due Fri­day, but many work­ers re­ceived stubs with ze­roes.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, trav­el­ling Satur­day in Abu Dhabi, claimed morale is good among U.S. diplo­mats even as many work with­out pay.

“We’re do­ing our best to make sure it doesn’t im­pact our diplo­macy,” he said.

Al­most half of the State Depart­ment em­ploy­ees in the United States and about one-quar­ter abroad have been fur­loughed dur­ing the shut­down.

With the ex­cep­tion of cer­tain lo­cal em­ploy­ees over­seas, the rest are work­ing with­out pay, like those tasked with sup­port­ing Pom­peo’s trip, which has thus far taken him to Jor­dan, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain, with ad­di­tional stops to come.

An emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion by Trump could break the stale­mate by let­ting him use ex­ist­ing, un­spent money to build the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der wall with­out need­ing con­gres­sional ap­proval. Democrats op­pose that step but may be un­able to stop it. Many Repub­li­cans are wary, too.

Nev­er­the­less the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­cel­er­ated plan­ning for it. Of­fi­cials ex­plored di­vert­ing money from a range of ac­counts, in­clud­ing US$13.9 bil­lion given to the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers af­ter last year’s deadly hur­ri­canes and floods. That op­tion ap­peared to lose steam fol­low­ing an out­cry.

Other pos­si­bil­i­ties in­cluded tap­ping as­set for­fei­ture funds, such as money seized from drug king­pins, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional Repub­li­can not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions. The White House also was eye­ing mil­i­tary con­struc­tion money, an­other po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult choice be­cause it would take away from a back­log of hun­dreds of projects.

Trump has been coun­selled by out­side ad­vis­ers to move to­ward declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency for the “cri­sis” that he says ex­ists at the south­ern bor­der. This comes as polls sug­gest Trump is get­ting most of the blame for the shut­down.

But some in the White House are try­ing to ap­ply the brakes. Jared Kush­ner was among those op­posed to the dec­la­ra­tion, ar­gu­ing to his fa­ther-in-law that pur­su­ing a broader im­mi­gra­tion deal was a bet­ter op­tion.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with White House think­ing said that in meet­ings this past week, the mes­sage was that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in no rush and wants to con­sider var­i­ous op­tions. The per­son was unau­tho­rized to dis­cuss pri­vate ses­sions and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Demo­cratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who op­poses any money for an “in­ef­fec­tive, waste­ful wall,” ar­gues that Trump is merely try­ing to steer at­ten­tion away from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and other White House prob­lems. “This is a big di­ver­sion, and he’s a mas­ter of di­ver­sion,” Pelosi told re­porters.

Trump has told ad­vis­ers he be­lieves the fight for the wall, even if he never gets money for it, is a po­lit­i­cal win for him.

Some of the out­side ad­vis­ers who want him to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency say it could have two ben­e­fits.

First, it would al­low him to claim that he was the one to act to re­open the gov­ern­ment.

Sec­ond, in­evitable le­gal chal­lenges would send the mat­ter to court, al­low­ing Trump to con­tinue the fight for the wall — and con­tinue to ex­cite his sup­port­ers — while not ac­tu­ally clos­ing the gov­ern­ment or im­me­di­ately re­quir­ing him to start con­struc­tion.

But while that might end the stand­off and al­low Congress to move to other pri­or­i­ties, some Repub­li­cans be­lieve such a dec­la­ra­tion would usurp con­gres­sional power and could lead fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dents to make sim­i­lar moves to ad­vance lib­eral pri­or­i­ties.

“Most con­ser­va­tives want it to be the last re­sort he would use,” said Rep. Mark Mead­ows, a leader of the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus who speaks to Trump fre­quently. “But those same con­ser­va­tives, I’m sure, if it’s de­ployed, would em­brace him as hav­ing done all he could do to ne­go­ti­ate with Democrats.”


Snow falls on the White House as a win­ter storm ar­rives in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. A par­tial U.S. gov­ern­ment shut­down en­tered its fourth week on Satur­day, set­ting a new record in the process.

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