Trump vows not to ‘cave’ on 32nd day of govt shutdown

Government staff receive donations at a food distribution centre for federal workers impacted by the shutdown, at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, of New York. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump had a message Tuesday for Democrats hoping he’ll relent in the political arm wrestle that has seen funds blocked to swaths of the government for a record 32 days: “No Cave!”

Trump’s defiant tweet again blamed congressional Democrats for the chaos, insisting he will not lift his shutdown on federal government funding unless they approve his US$5.7 billion plan for more walls along the US-Mexican border.

“Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security…. The Dems know this but want to play political games,” Trump tweeted.

Trump triggered a partial government shutdown on Dec 22 – refusing to sign off on funding everything from FBI salaries to national park services – as a way of pressuring the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to back the wall project.

But with Democrats refusing to give in and Trump sticking to his hardball tactics, political paralysis in Washington has morphed into growing day-to-day pain across the country as some 800,000 federal employees adjust to life without salaries.

Trump’s main opponent, Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, was adamant on Tuesday that the president is to blame. “#EndTheShutdown now,” she tweeted.

Pelosi, speaker of the Democrat-led House, argues that border security funding cannot even be discussed before the shutdown ends, accusing Trump of “holding Americans hostage.”

Senate vote doomed

On Saturday, Trump made a rare attempt at compromise, telling Democrats he would extend temporary protection to about a million immigrants facing deportation if he gets his US$5.7 billion in wall funding.

The deal would provide relief for two categories of immigrants: 700,000 so-called “Dreamers,” children of people who settled illegally in the United States, and who have become a favourite cause of the Democrats, as well as 300,000 other immigrants whose current protected status is expiring.

But Pelosi sent out a rejection before Trump had even officially laid out his proposal. Trump also caught backlash from the right wing of his own party, which accused him of wanting to give amnesty to large numbers of people living in the country illegally.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that a vote would be held this week on Trump’s plan. The chance to end the shutdown is “staring us in the face,” he told senators.

However, the bill looks doomed, with the senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, describing the Trump offer as “going nowhere fast.”

“President Trump and leader McConnell need to come to their senses,” he said.

Even if the bill did pass in the Republican-majority Senate, it would likely die in the Democrat-controlled House.

Extending the existing border fences has been at the top of Trump’s domestic agenda since his 2016 campaign.

Democrats accuse his campaign against illegal immigration of ignoring more complex humanitarian issues on the border and stoking xenophobia.

But the disagreement over walls has expanded into a much broader test of political strength in divided Washington, with each side desperate to prevent the other from declaring victory.

Meanwhile, the 800,000 unpaid federal employees and many more contract workers are collateral victims, facing the start of a second month of going unpaid.

Full-time employees will get their back pay eventually, but in the meantime they still have to meet mortgage payments and other monthly costs. For contractors, there isn’t even back pay to look forward to.

“If you’re not going to pay our bills, then send us back to work. That’s all we’re asking,” said Yvette Hicks, 40, a contractor at the Smithsonian museum complex. “People are losing their houses, people are losing their cars and everything.”

“Right now, this shutdown is really destroying me and my family,” she said. “I’m the mother and the father in my household, and my children depend on me.”