US partial government shutdown becomes longest ever

President's Trump's promised wall - or barrier - on the Mexican border is a key issue in the shutdown (Getty Images)
President’s Trump’s promised wall – or barrier – on the Mexican border is a key issue in the shutdown (Getty Images)

BBC– The partial shutdown of the US government has become the longest ever, with no end in sight to the political standoff.

On Saturday it reaches its 22nd day, overtaking the previous record – the 21-day shutdown in 1995-96 under then-President Bill Clinton.

President Donald Trump is refusing to approve a budget unless it includes funds for a wall on the Mexican border.

Democrats have rejected his request for $5.7bn (£4.5bn).

About a quarter of the federal government is still out of operation until a spending plan is agreed, leaving 800,000 employees unpaid.

On Friday, those workers – including prison guards, airport staff and FBI agents – missed their first salaries of the year.

Meanwhile, President Trump has calmed speculation that he is about to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and get the money he needs. His proposed border wall was a key election pledge.

He described an emergency declaration as an “easy way out” and said he would prefer Congress to resolve the problem.

But he added: “If they can’t do it… I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right.”

Correspondents say Democrats would mount an immediate legal challenge if Mr Trump made such a move.

On Friday, some workers who missed their first payday of the year shared their blank payslips on social media.

Oscar Murillo, an aerospace engineer at Nasa, posted his $0 cheque on Twitter and said he had actually lost money because of mandatory deductions.

Another Twitter user, Cat Heifner, shared what she said was her brother’s payslip, showing he had been paid one cent for his work as an air traffic controller.

A food bank in Washington DC is arranging five pop-up markets on Saturday for unpaid federal workers.

Radha Muthiah, head of Capital Area Food Bank, said dozens of volunteers were working to pack bags of food for affected staff.

Meanwhile, the classified advertising website Craigslist has been inundated with listings from government employees trying to sell their possessions.

Items ranging from beds to old toys have been listed as “government shutdown specials”.

“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” one advert for a child’s rocking chair reads. “We need money to pay bills.”

Of the 800,000 federal employees going unpaid, about 350,000 are furloughed – a kind of temporary lay-off – while the rest are continuing to work.

Thousands have reportedly applied for unemployment benefits amid the financial uncertainty.

One major airport, Miami International, will close an entire terminal this weekend because of a shortage of security agents caused by the shutdown.

The agents are “essential” federal workers and expected to work – despite not being paid until the shutdown ends.

Instead many agents are calling in sick in protest at the situation, the Miami Herald reports.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on Friday to ensure all government workers receive retroactive pay after the shutdown ends. The president is expected to sign the legislation.

But that may be small consolation to those federal employees currently in dire straits, with no end in sight to the impasse.

At a roundtable discussion about border security on Friday with state and local leaders, Mr Trump again demanded that Democrats approve funding for a wall or steel barrier.

However, the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives said the ball was in Mr Trump’s court.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters: “When the president acts, we will respond to whatever he does.”

According to the Associated Press, senior White House aide Jared Kushner – Mr Trump’s son-in-law – is among those who have cautioned the president against declaring a national emergency.

US media report the White House is considering diverting some of the $13.9bn allocated last year by Congress for disaster relief in such areas as Puerto Rico, Texas and California to pay for the wall.

But Republican congressman Mark Meadows, who is close to the president, said that option was not under serious consideration.



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