Washington, United States | AFP | The US government shutdown that has left 800,000 federal employees without salaries as a result of President Donald Trump’s row with Democrats over building a Mexico border wall was set to enter a record 22nd day Saturday.
The Democrats’ refusal to approve $5.7 billion demanded by Trump for the wall project has paralyzed Washington, with the president retaliating by refusing to sign off on budgets for swaths of government departments unrelated to the dispute.
As a result, workers as diverse as FBI agents, air traffic controllers and museum staff, did not receive paychecks Friday.
The partial shutdown of the government was about to become the longest on record at midnight Friday (0500 GMT Saturday) when it will overtake the 21-day stretch in 1995-1996, under president Bill Clinton.
Earlier Friday, Trump backed off a series of previous threats to end the deadlock by declaring a national emergency and attempting to secure the funds without congressional approval.
“I’m not going to do it so fast,” he said at a White House meeting.
Trump described an emergency declaration as the “easy way out” and said Congress had to step up to the responsibility of approving the $5.7 billion.
“If they can’t do it…, I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right,” he insisted.
Until now, Trump had suggested numerous times that he was getting closer to taking the controversial decision.
Only minutes earlier, powerful Republican ally Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted after talks with Trump: “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW.”
It was not clear what made Trump change course.
But Trump himself acknowledged in the White House meeting that an attempt to claim emergency powers would likely end up in legal battles going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Opponents say that a unilateral move by the president over the sensitive border issue would be constitutional overreach and set a dangerous precedent in similar controversies.
– ‘Under siege’ –
The standoff has turned into a test of political ego, particularly for Trump, who came into office boasting of his dealmaking powers and making an aggressive border policy the keystone of his nationalist agenda.
Democrats, meanwhile, seem determined at all costs to prevent a president who relishes campaign rally chants of “build the wall!” from getting a win.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the US-Mexican frontier presents major challenges, ranging from the hyper-violent Mexican drug trade to the plight of asylum seekers and poor migrants seeking new lives in the world’s richest country.