WASHINGTON: The US federal government shut down on Saturday after the Trump administration and Democrats locked horn over a proposal that could keep or evict hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to America as children.
“Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border. They could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown,” tweeted President Donald Trump, hours after the shutdown began at Friday midnight. Democrats rejected the charge and instead blame the president.
“There’s no one more to blame for the position we find ourselves than President Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor on Saturday. “Instead of bringing us all together, he’s pulled us apart.”
Throughout his speech, Senator Schumer used the phrase “Trump Shutdown” — to counter a Republican move to present it as a “Schumer Shutdown.”
This is the first shutdown to have happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House.
The Republicans want funding for border security — including a wall on the border with Mexico — and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending.
The Democrats are demanding protection from deportation for more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.
The Republicans fear such a deal could hurt their vote banks. So, they offered a sweetener: a six-year extension to a health insurance programme for children in lower-income families.
That’s not sweet enough for Democrats who want this programme extended permanently.
In Washington, Congress, which remained in session past midnight on Friday, resumed its proceedings early Saturday to find a way out. Both sides are trying to end the shutdown before Monday, when hundreds of thousands of federal employees across the United States return to work after the shutdown weekend but it seems unlikely.
The shutdown began after Senate Democrats orchestrated a defeat for a House-passed stopgap spending measure to show their displeasure with the Trump administration’s plan to undo an Obama era programme that allows immigrant children, who came to the US illegally, to work and go to school.
Although the White House has said it will not negotiate on this issue, both Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress said they will continue talking to each other and to the White House to resolve the dispute.
Senator Schumer called for a White House summit between congressional leaders and President Trump to hash out a broad deal on immigration, spending caps and disaster relief.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, however, insisted on sticking to a deal close to the House bill rejected by most Senate Democrats.
He also called for a measure to shorten the stopgap emergency funding to the federal government from four to three weeks.
Democrats blocked McConnell from getting a quick vote on the revised proposal, signalling they want more from a deal.
Polls show a majority of voters back a solution that would allow these immigrants to stay in the United States, but they also say that this does not justify shutting down the federal government.
A Washington Post poll released on Friday showed more people think Republicans would be blamed for a shutdown than Democrats, by 20 points.
Senator Schumer blamed Trump for walking away from a deal on immigration during a meeting at the White House on Friday afternoon, even though Mr. Schumer said he was willing to discuss the president’s top priority: the Mexico border wall.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2018