Thousands of federal workers missed their first pay cheque of the year on Friday as the US government shutdown neared an ignominious record for the longest in the nation’s history.
More than 800,000 public sector staff are either furloughed or have been working without any guarantee of pay since the current impasse began on 22 December.
Donald Trump had threatened to declare a national emergency to bypass congress and force through the spending plan at the centre of the dispute, which includes $5.7bn (£4.5bn) funding for the president’s controversial border wall contested by Democrats. But on Friday, the president said he would not declare on “right now”.
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The government shutdown will become the longest in US history on Saturday, surpassing the 21-day deadlock seen between December 1995 and January 1996 during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“The easy solution is for me to call a national emergency. I could do that very quickly,” Mr Trump said during a White House event on border security. “I have the absolute right to do it. But I’m not going to do it so fast. Because this is something Congress should do.”
Mr Trump spoke after legislators had left Washington for the weekend, precluding any possible action until next week.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Trump needs to make the next move to end the impasses.
“When the president acts, we will respond to whatever he does,” Ms Pelosi told reporters at a ceremonial event following congressional passage of legislation guaranteeing that federal employees will receive back pay once government agencies reopen.
To see how the day unfolded follow our live blog below
Hello and welcome to live updates on the US government shutdown from The Independent as the deadlock in Washington enters a 21st day.
Shutdown hits federal workers in the pocket
Most of the 800,000 federal workers currently furloughed or working without any guarantee of pay are thought to have missed out on their wages on Friday – what had been scheduled to be their first payday of 2019.
Staff working for a wide variety of government agencies have been affected. Thousands of IRS and Nasa employees have been given unpaid leave, while more than 40,000 law enforcement officials and 50,000 essential Transport Security Administration (TSA) officers are working without pay.
Shutdown on course to become longest in history
The shutdown has now entered an unsurpassed 21st day and is only a matter of hours away from breaking the record for the longest in US history.
It would move ahead of the shutdown that ran between December 1995 and January 1996, which took place during the presidency of Bill Clinton.
That standoff resulted from a disagreement over budget talks between Mr Clinton and then house speaker, Republican Newt Gingrich, over government spending and tax cuts.
If an agreement is not reached to end the current shutdown by the early hours of Saturday morning, which seems unlikely unless significant progress is made in talks today, it will become the longest ever.
Donald Trump continues to lobby for his border wall, over which the current government shutdown has been caused, this time offering a rallying cry in a baffling tweet.
The president said on Thursday evening the country loses “300 Americans a week, 90% of which comes through the Southern Border.”
The tweet appears to have confused many, but it seems likely Mr Trump meant to include the word “heroin” in the post.
If he did, he would be repeating the claim made during his televised Oval Office address earlier in the week that 90 per cent of heroin sold in the US is trafficked across the border from Mexico.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agrees most heroin brought into America comes through its southern border, the agency says the vast majority is smuggled through legal border crossing points, suggesting a wall would do little to curb the problem.
The president is now thought to be seriously considering drastic measures to break the deadlock in Washington and secure funding for his border wall without approval from the Democrats.
Mr Trump repeated a threat on Thursday to declare a national emergency in order to build the wall if congress did not agree to his spending plans.
However, he is reportedly considering whether to use part of a $13.9bn (£10.8bn) disaster relief fund to pay for construction.
The money had been set aside to help hurricane-damaged areas of Puerto Rico and wildfire-hit California.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed, contrary to evidence, there is a growing immigration and security “crisis” at the border.
Trump reiterates national emergency threats on Texas trip
Donald Trump paid a visit to the Texas border city of McAllen and the Rio Grande river on Thursday, to highlight what he is attempting to paint as a crisis of drugs and crime.
He threatened once again to declare a national emergency in order to force through a funding package for his wall without the approval of the Democrats.
“We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn’t have to,” the president told reporters. “This is just common sense.”
Mr Trump is consulting with White House lawyers and allies about using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over objections in congress.
He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100 per cent”.
Such a move to bypass US congress’ constitutional control of government spending would spark certain legal challenges and bipartisan claims of executive over-reach.
Meanwhile, a TV station editor has found himself in hot water after doctored footage of Donald Trump’s Oval Office address on border security was aired.
The Seattle-based Fox affiliate, Q13, broadcast images in which the president’s face was altered to appear more orange, while his tongue was shown hanging languidly from his mouth for a prolonged period of time.
A spokesman for the channel said the unnamed editor had been fired for failing to “meet editorial standards”.
Dan Crenshaw, the newly-elected Republican representative for Texas’s second congressional district, has asked for his pay to be withheld while the shutdown causes uncertainty for huge numbers of federal employees.
Hundreds of thousands of staff for government agencies were due to receive their first pay cheque of the year today, but most will not see their money.
“I cannot in good conscience get paid while federal employees’ financial futures hang in the balance because of this partial government shutdown,” Mr Crenshaw wrote on Twitter.
“I’ve asked the Chief Administrative Officer to withhold my pay until we have come to an agreement to adequately fund border security.”
Roughly 800,000 federal employees have been either sent on unpaid leave or been asked to work without any guarantees they will receive money for their time while the shutdown is ongoing.
Congress would need to agree a deal to see the staff remunerated once the dispute is brought to an end, as has commonly happened after previous shutdowns.
Furloughed workers search for second jobs to pay bills
With the government shutdown already having lasted for three weeks and with no end in sight, many furloughed federal workers are having to consider looking for a second job in order to pay the bills.
Rachael Weatherly, a mother-of-two from Maryland, is a senior adviser for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, she’s now exploring the possibility to applying for a job at a grocery store.
She says a recent separation from her spouse has drained her bank account, leaving her unable to afford to miss a pay cheque.
In Utah, Tiauna Guerra is one of 3,750 IRS workers who have been furloughed. She is trying to get a job, but says employers are reluctant to hire her when they realise she could be heading back to her regular workplace in a matter of weeks.
In the meantime, she has been forced to take out a loan to make her car payment and she and her husband are delaying plans to move out of her parents’ house until the shutdown ends.
“We’re barely getting by,” said Ms Guerra, a mother of two small children. “We are not able to pay a lot of our bills. We’re having a hard time trying to buy gas, food.”
Donald Trump now claims despite his repeated claims over a number of years that Mexico would pay for his border wall plan, he “obviously never meant Mexico would write a cheque”.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Trump’s website stated the US’s southern neighbour would pay for the border security measure with a “one-time payment of $5-10 billion”.
However, speaking on Thursday, the president now claims he never explicitly said Mexico would directly pay for the wall, saying it would instead pay indirectly “many, many times over”.
The president has tweeted for the first time on Friday, expanding on comments he made yesterday in relation to funding for his border wall plan.
“We have just signed a great new Trade Deal with Mexico,” he writes. “It is Billions of Dollars a year better than the very bad NAFTA deal which it replaces. The difference pays for Wall many times over!”
Mr Trump had made various claims in the past that Mexico would pay directly for the wall, although this latest tweet appears to reiterate his comments yesterday that the wall would be funded through more indirect channels.
Shutdown ‘threatening low-income families with eviction’
Hundreds of low-income families living in rental accommodation across the United States are being put at risk of eviction by the government shutdown, according to research by a campaign group.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (
) has warned that without a funding package, more than 1,100 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contracts to provide project-based rental assistance housing will expire between December 2018 and Feburary 2019.
Without a federal funding deal, HUD has no means with which to renew or replace the contracts.
NLIHC says private landlords with government contracts have been advised to use their own funding reserves to cover losses while the shutdown continues.
However, the organisation warned tenants risk being evicted if the situation continues, as the option of waiting for a resolution becomes untenable for landlords.
Interesting piece by The Washington Post examines what furloughed federal workers across the US have been doing with their extended period off work.
Although some have are trying to pass the time with baking or hikes, many are conscious the shutdown could have potentially serious financial implications for them and their families.
Veterans’ group: ‘Trump should end this tomorrow’
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a nonpartisan organisation supporting American veterans of the two conflicts, has urged Donald Trump and congress to “fix this mess” and end the “harmful” government shutdown.
IAVA said a third of federal workers are veterans, including 150,000 who had been affected by the shutdown. Large numbers of veterans work in uniformed services such as the Coast Guard and the US Public Health Service.
“This shutdown is terrible for America, terrible for our national security and especially terrible for our nation’s veterans. It must end immediately,” said IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff.
“Thousands of veterans have answered the call from their government to continue to serve as civilians, and now, they and their families are being recklessly left out in the cold.
“The president can end this tomorrow. And he should. As our Commander-in-Chief, we need him to prioritise our needs above politics.
“Now and always. IAVA members nationwide are standing guard to protect and support the American people. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their next paycheck will be coming. The impact on our community has been devastating.”
Shutdown forces closure of Miami airport terminal
Miami International Airport says it is partially closing one of its terminals this weekend because security screeners have been calling in sick at twice the airport’s normal rate during the government shutdown.
Airport spokesman, Greg Chin, said there had been concerns over whether enough staff would show up in order to handle all 11 checkpoints at Terminal G.
The terminal will close at 1pm on Saturday, reopen for flights briefly on Sunday morning, before closing again at 1pm that afternoon.
Terminal G serves United Airlines along with smaller carriers. Its closure means restaurants and shops that depend on departing flights also will close.
Many airports across the US have reported high numbers of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers calling in sick during the shutdown.
TSA airport security staff are deemed essential government employees, meaning they are still expected to work during the dispute despite having no concrete guarantees they will receive back pay.
Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s representative in congress says it is “unacceptable” for Donald Trump to consider siphoning off billions of dollars slated for disaster relief in the US territory for his proposed border wall.
A congressional official said Thursday the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to look for billions of dollars earmarked last year for disaster response for Puerto Rico and other areas that could be diverted to a border wall.
The president is considering declaring a national emergency over what he has described as a “crisis” on the US border with Mexico, in order to bypass congress and secure funding for the project.
“While the president has broad military authorities, as the Commander in Chief, when it comes to declaring a national emergency, I cannot and will not support reallocating funding we approved in a bipartisan effort in congress for the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico,” Ms Gonzalez said in a statement.
“We haven’t received the funding after more than a year and using this as a political football is not what the American citizens in Puerto Rico deserve.”
To add to the chaos in Washington, it appears that snow may be on the way over the weekend, understandably leading to concern federal workers will not be on hand to ensure the US capital does not grind to a standstill.
However, disaster may have been averted – a National Park Service spokesman has told The Washington Post federal workers will be deployed in the event of snow to clear nearly 300 miles of roadways and 100 miles of pavement across the city.
Donald Trump says he is planning changes including a possible pathway to US citizenship for foreigners holding H-1B visas.
The visa is issued temporarily to highly-educated immigrants who work in speciality occupations such as technology or medicine.
“H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship,” the president said in a Twitter post.
Mr Trump has often said he wanted an immigration system that favoured educated or highly skilled people.
While he typically depicts undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the country through Mexico as violent criminals, he frequently praises those applying for H-1B visas, which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Nasa workers starting to feel the shutdown pinch
Federal employees in Huntsville, Alabama, where Nasa has a large workforce, are beginning to feel the problems caused by the shutdown.
The city was transformed into something of a technical and engineering hub when the agency chose to build rockets at Redstone Arsenal at the height of the space race space race.
But, a heavy reliance on the base for employment – some 38,000 people out of a city of 195,000 work at Redstone – has left some concerned as to what will happen next.
Jack Lyons, a lifelong space fanatic landed a dream job working on massive rocket test stands for Nasa, but is now spending his furlough on his small side business making props for marching bands.
A solid Republican voter until 2016, when he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump, he’s frustrated and saddened by what’s going on in Washington.
“They’re trying to use people as bargaining chips, and it just isn’t right,” he said.
Unlike civil service workers who expect to eventually get back pay, Mr Lyons doesn’t know if he’ll ever see a dollar from the shutdown period.
By a vote of 411-7, the House of Representatives has passed a bill requiring that all government workers receive retroactive pay after the partial shutdown ends.
The Senate approved the bill unanimously on Thursday. The president is expected to sign the legislation.
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