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Government shutdown begins as Congress leaves without a deal

Updated December 21, 2018 - 9:10 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump forced a Christmas holiday shutdown of the government Friday after Congress refused to provide $5 billion in taxpayer money to build a border wall that he had famously said Mexico would finance.

But Republicans, Democrats and the White House kept open hope that a partial shutdown would be short lived, agreeing to continue negotiations on legislation that could garner bipartisan and presidential support to reopen federal departments after funding lapsed after midnight.

Late Friday, White House negotiators left the Capitol and the House and Senate adjourned without a spending deal.

A partial government shutdown began at midnight EST (9 p.m. Pacific).

“It’s totally up to the Democrats,” Trump said from the White House, following a week of mixed messages that caught GOP congressional leaders by surprise and left them feverishly trying to retool a previously agreed to stopgap bill.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would not provide money for a concrete structure along the border.

“You’re not getting the wall,” Schumer said from the Senate floor, where he accused the president of throwing a tantrum after he was criticized by conservative pundits for “caving” to Democrats on the issue.

A partial shutdown will have an impact on Nevada, home to thousands of federal workers — but it will not interfere with Social Security checks, Medicare or Medicaid benefits or veterans health care and services.

About 800,000 federal workers nationally would be furloughed, or asked to work without pay, during the period of time departments are closed because of lack of funding. In Nevada, there are roughly 2,000 federal employees under the Department of Interior, alone.

One sign of hope that the shutdown would be temporary came early Friday evening when Vice President Mike Pence broke a 47-47 tie in the Senate allowing the chamber to take up a House-passed bill and keep alive negotiations between Republicans, Democrats and the White House.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., voted with a majority of Democrats against taking up the bill. Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah, all of whom are leaving the Senate, did not vote.

Cortez Masto said Trump had said taxpayers “would not have to pay for his wall. Now, he is focused on shutting down the government to force taxpayers to pay $5 billion for an ineffective border wall.”

Stopgap measure

Earlier in the week, Trump had agreed to sign a Senate stopgap bill to keep the government open until early next year, when a new Congress would resolve the border issue.

But with Democrats taking control of the House next year, and conservative pundits pillorying the president for failing to get the wall funding, Trump abruptly reversed course Thursday. That sent Republican leaders in Congress scrambling to find an acceptable compromise for the president to sign.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a frequent critic of the president, said Trump’s hasty turnabout after the far-right criticism was governance by “tyranny” and he threatened to vote against a bill with the border wall money the administration demanded.

House conservative Republicans cobbled together a last-minute bill that provided $5.7 billion for a border wall, as well as emergency housing funds for disaster areas. It passed along mostly party lines.

The bill then was sent to the Senate, where Republicans lacked the votes to even begin debate Friday and needed the vice president’s tie-breaking vote.

That bill also lacked the 60 votes necessary for passage under budget rules, GOP leaders conceded.

Late Friday, GOP lawmakers said that they hoped to reach an agreement on $1.6 billion in funds for border security, which would include fencing and other technology, that the White House might accept.

Ironically, that figure and the fencing was agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democrats earlier this year.

Trump also signaled a softening of his position, sending out on Twitter a diagram of a steel-slated barrier, and not necessarily a wall, that could be used along the border.

The president’s tweet brought guffaws from critics and supporters alike. A border wall was the centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign where he bullied primary opponents for their categorization of his wall as a “fence” or any other structure.

And he famously said he would make Mexico pay for the wall. Since the election, however, Trump has sought federal funding for the wall in his budget requests to Congress.

Long shutdown warning

Any deal reached by Republican, Democrat and White House negotiators would have to be passed by the House and Senate.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters that with Democrats taking control of the House in January, the spending bill under consideration was the best chance Republicans have to secure wall funding.

After the House adjourned Friday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said ample time would be given the lawmakers to return to the Capitol to vote if an agreement is reached and approved by the Senate.

Nevada congressional lawmakers like Dina Titus, a Las Vegas Democrat, cancelled several flights home while waiting for a final bill.

Trump warned earlier Friday that failure to agree on border funding could result in a long shutdown.

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was preparing a bill to reopen the government on Jan. 3, when the new Democrat-led House is sworn into office.

And House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., whose congressional district includes thousands of federal workers, said he was writing a bill that would pay government employees while they were furloughed.

Earlier this year, Trump signed into law a bill that funds 75 percent of the government, including the military, through next year. Departments unfunded include Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development.

There were more than 19,000 full time federal employees in Nevada in 2017, with the largest number, 2,000 people, working under Interior, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Other Nevada employees that would be furloughed include 477 federal workers with Agriculture, 336 working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, many at McCarran International Airport, 125 employees under Justice, 86 employed by Treasury and 18 with HUD, according to OPM.

Federal employees deemed “essential” will remain on duty, although without pay.

Following previous shutdowns, Congress has restored pay for those who were left out of work. But that has not been the case for the thousands of federal contractors.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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