‘Agreement in principle’ reached to avoid US government shutdown

Announcement of possible deal comes as Trump heads to El Paso to make case for a border wall that Democrats oppose.

A man holds a sign during a march by members of Border Network for Human Rights to protest against Trump's proposed wall, in El Paso, Texas [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]
A man holds a sign during a march by members of Border Network for Human Rights to protest against Trump’s proposed wall, in El Paso, Texas [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

Negotiators in the US Congress say they have reached an “agreement in principle” to fund the government and avoid another partial government shutdown.

The emerging agreement was announced late on Monday by a group of politicians, including Republican Senator Richard Shelby and Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, after a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Shelby did not give an outline of the deal but said staff members would work out the details.

Negotiators scrambled on Monday afternoon to save the talks after they fell apart over the weekend due to disagreements over immigrant detention beds and physical barriers along the US-Mexico border.

Top Democrat: There won’t be another shutdown over Trump’s wall

US President Donald Trump‘s December demand for $5.7bn to help construct a border wall triggered the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month. It was the longest government closure of its kind in US history.

Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Duelling rallies

Meanwhile, on Monday night, Trump held a campaign-style rally in the border city of El Paso, Texas.

Trump has repeatedly pointed to El Paso to make his case that a border wall was necessary, claiming that barriers turned the city from one of the nation’s most dangerous to one of its safest. The claim comes despite statistics showing El Paso had a murder rate of less than half the national average in 2005, a year before the most recent expansion of its border fence.

State of the Union: What Trump said on wall, economy, Venezuela

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso’s annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city’s crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.

The Trump campaign released a video showing El Paso residents saying the wall helped reduce crime. But many in the city have bristled at the prospect of becoming a border wall poster child.

But the Republican president was also greeted by thousands of anti-wall protesters.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from El Paso, said many of the anti-wall protesters “felt insulted that the president pictured the city as a community rife with crime, drugs, human trafficking and a very unsafe place in his State of the Union speech last week and said that’s false.”

Leading the protesters was hometown Democrat Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman who in November lost a close election for a US Senate seat in Texas to Republican Ted Cruz. He is now considering seeking his party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has sought to crack down on immigration.

Trump made a border wall one of his central campaign promises in 2016, saying it was needed to curb irregular immigration, drug trafficking and other crimes.

Democrats, who took control of the House last month from Trump’s fellow Republicans, oppose a wall, calling it ineffective, expensive and immoral.

Trump again weighs national emergency ahead of SOTU speech

US President Donald Trump said he “thinks there’s a good chance we’ll have to” declare an emergency to build the wall.

US President Trump visits the country's border with border patrol agents in Mission, Texas [File: Leah Mills/Reuters]
US President Trump visits the country’s border with border patrol agents in Mission, Texas [File: Leah Mills/Reuters]

Days before his annual State of the Union address, US President Donald Trump renewed his threat on Friday to declare a national emergency in order to obtain funds for a wall on the US-Mexico border without congressional approval.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll have to,” Trump told reporters, a week after a record-long partial government shutdown ended without Democrats approving funds for a border wall.

That demand – $5.7bn to build a wall along the border – led Trump to allow the government to shut down on December 22. Trump initially said that the shutdown could last “months or even years”, and later threatened to skirt congressional approval by declaring a national emergency,

Under pressure from fellow Republicans to reset his contentious presidency, Trump plans to offer a conciliatory tone during his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

He signaled on Friday that the address will include extensive remarks about his standoff with Democrats over his proposed border wall.

Dwelling at length on this could undermine any attempt by Trump to strike a compromising tone, which many Republicans, including some close to the White House, are urging him to offer in an effort to temper his rhetoric and move past the shutdown fight.

Beyond the wall, a senior White House official told Reuters that Trump will outline what he sees as areas where Republicans and Democrats may be able to find agreement.

Pelosi vows no wall funds, Trump says he won’t wait for talks

House Speaker and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi says ''winning is good'' [Yuri Gripas/Reuters]
House Speaker and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi says ”winning is good” [Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

In her first press conference since a record-long partial government shutdown ended, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi renewed her party’s vow that Democrats will not allocate funding to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

House Speaker Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.”

Upon entering the room full of reporters, she said, “Full house. Winning is good.”

Her remarks come a week after Democrats struck a deal with President Donald Trump to fund the government for three weeks and end the 35-day partial shutdown while talks on border security continued.

If an agreement is not reached by the end of the three-week period, the government could partially shut down again.

On Thursday, Democrats offered further details on their border security plan, which does not include money for a wall. The Democratic measure, totalling nearly $22bn for US customs, border patrol and immigration agents, would significantly increase spending for scanners at ports of entry, humanitarian aid for apprehended migrants and new aircraft to police the US-Mexico border. It would also freeze the number of border patrol agents and block any wall construction in wildlife refuges along the border.

‘Wasting time’

Earlier in the day, Trump said Republicans are “wasting their time” trying to negotiate with Democrats and he doesn’t “expect much help” from Congress to get the wall built.

He said he wasn’t going to wait for the negotiating committee to strike a deal, and indicated he is still weighing whether he to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress to build the wall.

Trump accused Pelosi of “playing games”, adding that if Democrats don’t “give us a wall, it doesn’t work”.

The president also took to Twitter, to announce that more US troops are being sent to the country’s southern border.

He claimed, without evidence, that troops would help prevent an “attempted invasion”, referring to US-bound groups of undocumented immigrants and refugees fleeing violence and economic catastrophe.

‘I was forced to leave’: Central American caravan enters Mexico

“More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted Invasion of Illegals, through large Caravans, into our Country,” Trump wrote in the tweet. He did not elaborate.

Shutdown over immigration

Trump had allowed the government to shut down on December 22, after Democrats refused to provide more than $5bn in funding for his proposed border wall.

Throughout the shutdown, Trump vowed to keep the government partially closed for “months or even years”.

The shutdown affected more than 800,000 federal workers in nine different departments, as well as several federal agencies.

This included the departments of agriculture, commerce, justice, homeland security, housing and urban development, interior, state, transportation and treasury.

Federal workers deemed “essential” were required to work without pay. Others were furloughed or placed on temporary leave.


On the border, Trump’s wall pledge casts long shadow

With pressure mounting, Trump backtracked on his threat to keep the government shutdown until Democrats agreed to fund his border wall.

On Friday, Trump and Democrats reached a deal that did not include funding for the border wall.

Rather, Democrats approved a bill providing funds for more border patrol agents, drones, sensors and other equipment and measures.

Since coming to office, Trump has sought to tighten restrictions around immigration and asylum seeking in the US, prompting a widespread backlash from rights groups and critics alike.

Maine: Rep. Golden spearheads bill to withhold pay from Congress and president during future shutdowns

Solidarity in Salary Act proposes withholding paychecks from the president, vice president and members of Congress during any future government shutdowns.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Freshman U.S. Rep. Jared Golden from Maine is wasting no time in Congress working on legislation.

Golden introduced the Solidarity in Salary Act of 2019 on the House floor Tuesday to put pressure on members of the legislative and executive branch during government shutdowns.

The Solidarity in Salary Act is a bipartisan bill that proposes withholding paychecks from the president, vice president and members of Congress during any future government shutdowns, according to a spokesperson for Golden. Golden calls the bill common sense.

“Federal workers don’t get paid during a government shutdown. Neither should politicians,” said Golden. 

The democratic representative has been outspoken about the need for both sides to be held accountable for the longest shutdown in the nation’s history.

“I’ve said from the beginning of this shutdown crisis that the way forward is for both parties to come to the table and work together,” Golden said in a statement after an agreement was reached last week. “Congress needs to put actions behind its words.”

The payroll for the congress members, president, and vice president would be held in escrow every day of a shutdown until the government was open again.


Shutdown over Trump’s border wall cost the US economy $11bn: CBO

A sign declared the National Archive closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington, DC [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
A sign declared the National Archive closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington, DC [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

The five-week partial US government shutdown, triggered by the battle over President Donald Trump‘s border wall, cost the US economy $11bn, according to the latest analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

That figure captures lost output from furloughed federal workers, delayed government spending on goods and services and dampened private sector activity resulting from the shutdown.

The CBO expects eight billion dollars of the loss to be recovered as the government gets back to business as usual and federal employees return to their jobs.

But some three billion in foregone economic activity will not be recovered, the CBO said.

That means the level of projected economic growth for 2019 is expected to be 0.02 percent smaller than it would have been if the shutdown had not happened.


US government shutdown: A timeline

Some individual businesses and workers may also not fully rebound from the financial hit they suffered as a result of the shutdown.

“Among those who experienced the largest and most direct negative effects are federal workers who faced delayed compensation and private-sector entities that lost business,” said the CBO. “Some of those private-sector entities will never recoup that lost income.”

Some 800,000 federal employees were furloughed or required to work without pay during the shutdown. Trump, last week, signed a bill that guarantees back pay for federal workers, but contractors, and other indirectly affected, will likely not recuperate their lost wages.

The CBO cautioned that its estimates do not incorporate other indirect negative effects, which are more difficult to quantify “but were probably becoming more significant as it continued”.

For example, interruptions to federal permitting and reduced access to federal government loans may have led some businesses to postpone investment and hiring decisions – disruptions which can take a bite out economic growth.

Investor and consumer confidence may have wobbled because federal statistical agencies were unable to compile and publish crucial data to guide decisions.

The credibility of the federal government as an employer and contracting party may also have been eroded, “making it more difficult for federal agencies to attract and maintain a talented workforce and more expensive to enter into contracts with the private firms”, the CBO said.


US shutdown: Senate rejects bills to reopen government

Federal workers protest in a Senate office building on Wednesday

The US Senate has rejected two bills to end the government shutdown, leaving no end in sight to the record-breaking closure of federal agencies.

The Republican legislation failed by 50-47 and the Democratic bill followed suit by 52-44. Both measures were long shots, needing 60 votes to pass.

Meanwhile, 800,000 federal workers who are struggling to cover their bills will miss another payday on Friday.

At 34 days with no end in sight, this is the longest shutdown in US history.

Six Republican defectors – including former White House candidate and Utah Senator Mitt Romney – voted for the Democratic bill. It would have reopened the government until 8 February.

One conservative Democrat backed the Republican measure, which would have provided the $5.7bn (£4.4bn) that President Donald Trump wants to build a southern border wall. It would also have temporarily shielded from deportation some US residents who entered the country without documentation as children.

Afterwards, Mr Trump told reporters at the White House that he would only sign a bill if it included a “down payment” on a border barrier.

But the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the Republican president’s request was not reasonable.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, held brief talks after the votes failed, but there was no sign of a breakthrough.

Boy sells art to help mother through shutdown

The political imbroglio frayed tempers on the Senate floor on Thursday.

Before voting began, Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, shouted at Texas Republican Ted Cruz, accusing him of shedding “crocodile tears” over unpaid workers while supporting the president’s plan for “a medieval barrier”.

Meanwhile, multi-millionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross questioned why unpaid civil servants have been visiting food banks, saying they should just take out a bank loan.

Speaker Pelosi accused Mr Ross of a “‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude”.

Ahead of the vote, an Associated Press opinion poll reported that the shutdown had negatively impacted Mr Trump’s popularity.

Just 34% of Americans in the survey supported Mr Trump overall – down from 42% a month earlier. But his approval among Republican voters was close to 80%.

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Something has to give

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher

Now it’s back to square one. Democrats in the House of Representatives suggest they could pass a package with border security – but no direct wall funding – as a compromise.

That’s a change from the no-negotiation position they held for over a month, but the president has previously said this was not sufficient.

Something has to give.

Will Mr Trump’s sagging polls ratings and these latest signs of dissent in the party’s Senate ranks be enough to change his mind?

While the president boasts about never conceding defeat, he surprised many by abruptly backing away from the recent showdown over the State of the Union Address. He also reversed course last year on his family separation policy at the border following public outcry.

A break, if it comes from the president, could happen quickly. The Democratic position would have to erode over time – and, for the moment, the party remains fairly united.

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Also on Thursday, former White House chief of staff John Kelly and four other former homeland security secretaries wrote to lawmakers and the president, calling for the agency to be funded again.

They said it was “unconscionable” that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees were working unpaid on matters of national security.

The letter said those civil servants “should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills”.

Just why has the US government partially shut down?
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How is the shutdown biting?

  • FBI: A report from agents nationwide has warned the bureau’s resources are at breaking point, which has delayed sensitive investigations and compromised operations
  • Flight safety: This week, air traffic, pilot and flight attendant union leaders released a statement saying they “cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play”
  • Food shortages: A food bank for Coast Guard families in the north-western US state of Washington ran out of meals amid high demand
  • Immigration delays: More than 42,000 immigration hearings have been suspended, adding to a court backlog of over 800,000 cases

Read more: The impact of the government shutdown

US shutdown: Trump says Pelosi ‘afraid of the truth’

Donald TrumpMr Trump said there were no security concerns ahead of the event

US President Donald Trump says he will deliver a speech to Congress next week, despite calls from top Democrats for it to be postponed over security risks.

Mr Trump insists the State of the Union will happen on 29 January since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already invited him to address Congress this month.

Mrs Pelosi said that was before the shutdown dragged into day 33.

She shot back in a second letter that the lower chamber would not authorise the address before the shutdown ends.

The president told reporters on Wednesday that Mrs Pelosi had cancelled the speech “because she doesn’t want to hear the truth”.

“She’s afraid of the truth,” Mr Trump said. “She doesn’t want the American public to see what’s going on.”

Mr Trump earlier said that he was not surprised by Mrs Pelosi’s response, and said the Democrats had “become radicalised”.

“It really is a shame. This will go on for a while. Ultimately the American people will have their way because they want to see no crime, they want to see what we’re doing.”

Democrats have argued that with so many federal employees furloughed – temporarily laid off – or working without pay, the high-profile State of the Union address, which involves both chambers of Congress and the president, would not be logistically feasible.

But Mr Trump has denied that there were any security concerns posed by the ongoing partial shutdown.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) speaks to members of the press about U.S. President Donald Trump and the State of the Union speechSpeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has requested the address be postponed until the shutdown ends

What has Pelosi said?

The Speaker, who is the third most powerful politician in the US, had invited Mr Trump at the start of January to address Congress on the agreed-upon date of 29 January.

“At that time, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down,” Mrs Pelosi said in her letter on Wednesday.

“I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorising the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.”

“Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.”

Mrs Pelosi had first asked for the State of the Union, a keynote agenda-setting speech by the president, to be delayed on 16 January, citing an unfunded Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security.

In retaliation, Mr Trump on Friday denied Mrs Pelosi use of military airplanes on a trip to Brussels and Afghanistan – less than an hour before her flight was due to depart.

He asked her to stay to negotiate an end to the partial US government shutdown.

What has Trump said?

On 23 January, Mr Trump dug his heels in over the annual address, telling Mrs Pelosi: “It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!”

Mr TrumpMr Trump says the State of the Union address will go ahead despite Democrat’s protests

He emphasised that Mrs Pelosi had already invited him to speak, he had accepted that invitation, and that security agencies informed him “there would be absolutely no problem regarding security with respect to the event”.

“Therefore, I will be honouring your invitation, and fulfilling my Constitutional duty,” he added.

Why is the US government partially shut down?

A row between the Republican president and Democrats over border security has led to the longest government shutdown in US history.

Mr Trump is demanding $5.7bn (£4.4bn) of congressional funding to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, but newly empowered Democrats have refused.

Some 800,000 federal employees have been going unpaid since 22 December as a result of the shutdown.

Graphic showing the lengths of various government shutdowns
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Games of chicken

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher

Donald Trump says he wants to deliver his State of the Union speech “on time, on schedule and on location”. He can accomplish the first two without difficulty.

The Constitution is silent on the how the president “from time to time” must communicate with Congress.

The “location”, however, could be tricky.

As the president must know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has near total control over her chamber of Congress.

While she did invite the president to speak earlier this month, the legislative action to allow the president to give his joint address has yet to be implemented.

Mrs Pelosi has said she’s not budging until the government reopens – and in this particular case, her word is final.

All this sets up a game of chicken over a speech within the game of chicken over the shutdown. Everything up to this point has been manoeuvring to gain tactical advantage and avoid the public’s scorn.

For the moment, polls show Americans holding the president responsible for the impasse. But the fallout from this unprecedented State of the Union drama, if it reaches a climax on Tuesday, is unpredictable, to say the least.