Senate rejects Trump-backed shutdown bill

Federal workers protest in a Senate office building on WednesdayImage copyright
Getty Images

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. Each bill needed 60 votes to move forward.

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

Only one Democrat backed the Republican measure, which would have provided $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, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Mr Trump would only consider a bill if it included “a large down-payment on the wall”.

Mrs Sanders said that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, were holding talks to try to break the deadlock.

The impasse 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”.

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has faced backlash for remarks about unpaid workers that Democrats have called tone-deaf

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

The Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rebuked Mr Ross, accusing him of a “‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude”.

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

Just 34% of Americans in the survey approved of Mr Trump overall – down from 42% a month earlier. Six out of 10 said the shutdown was mostly his fault. But his approval among Republican voters was close to 80%.

Something has to give

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.

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

As many essential federal employees continue to work without pay, some former government officials are urging action.

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: “DHS employees who protect the travelling public, investigate and counter-terrorism and protect critical infrastructure should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.