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Gov't Shuts Down, Blame Game Begins    01/20 09:59

   Americans awoke Saturday to learn that bickering politicians in Washington 
had failed to keep their government in business, halting all but the most 
essential operations and marring the anniversary of President Donald Trump's 
inauguration.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans awoke Saturday to learn that bickering 
politicians in Washington had failed to keep their government in business, 
halting all but the most essential operations and marring the anniversary of 
President Donald Trump's inauguration.

   It was a striking display of Washington dysfunction, and the finger-pointing 
came quickly. Trump tweeted that Democrats "wanted to give me a nice present" 
to mark the start of his second year in office.

   The Republican-controlled Congress scheduled an unusual weekend session to 
begin considering a three-week version of a short-term spending measure and to 
broadcast to the people they serve that they were at work as the closure 
commenced. It seemed likely that each side would push for votes aimed at making 
the other party look culpable for shuttering federal agencies.

   The fourth government shutdown in a quarter-century began at the stroke of 
midnight Friday, last-gasp negotiations crumbling when Senate Democrats blocked 
a four-week budget extension. Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans 
and Democrats were trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.

   The closure began at the start of a weekend, so many of the immediate 
effects will be muted for most Americans. Damage could build quickly if the 
closure is prolonged. And it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for Trump 
and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the 
other at the ballot box in November.

   Trump said Democrats "could have easily made a deal but decided to play 
Shutdown politics instead." In a series of tweets hours after the shutdown 
began, the president tried to make the case for Americans to elect more 
Republicans to Congress in November "in order to power through this mess." He 
noted that there are 51 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, and it often 
takes 60 votes to advance legislation.

   Reinforcing the president's position, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley 
said Saturday that Trump will not negotiate immigration policy with Congress 
until the shutdown ends. The bill that failed in the Senate did not include 
protection for certain immigrants living illegally in the country, as Democrats 
had demanded as a condition for their support.

   "We are not going to negotiate ... immigration until this government's 
open," Gidley told reporters at the White House.

   House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday on the House floor that 
Trump had earned an F for "failure in leadership." She said Republicans are "so 
incompetent and negligent that they couldn't get it together to keep the 
government open."

   Social Security and most other safety-net programs are unaffected by the 
lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will 
continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement 
officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, 
hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.

   After hours of closed-door meetings and phone calls, the Senate scheduled 
its late Friday night vote on a House-passed plan. It gained 50 votes to 
proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.

   Democrats balked in an effort to put pressure on the White House to cut a 
deal to protect immigrants brought to the country as children and now here 
illegally --- commonly called "Dreamers" --- before their legal protection runs 
out in March.

   Democrats are laying fault for the shutdown on Republicans, who control both 
chambers of Congress and the White House and have struggled with building 
internal consensus. Republicans are holding Democrats responsible after they 
declined to provide the votes needed to overcome a filibuster over their desire 
to force the passage of legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants 
from deportation.

   "Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with 
our great Military or Safety at our dangerous" border with Mexico, Trump 
tweeted.

   Republicans branded the confrontation a "Schumer shutdown," after New York's 
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader. He said a "Trump shutdown" was more 
accurate.

   Earlier Friday, Trump had brought Schumer to the White House in hopes of 
cutting a deal on a short-term spending agreement.

   The two New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their negotiating abilities, 
started talking over cheeseburgers about a larger agreement that would have 
included greater military spending and money for a Southern border wall. But 
the talks fell apart almost as abruptly as they started.

   Nonetheless, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney predicted a deal 
would be reached by Monday, when most government offices are to reopen after 
the weekend.

   Trump had been an unreliable negotiator in the weeks leading up to the 
showdown. Earlier this week he tweeted opposition to the four-week plan, 
forcing the White House to later affirm his support. He expressed openness to 
extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, only to reject a 
bipartisan proposal. His disparaging remarks about African and Haitian 
immigrants last week helped derail further negotiations.

   Trump had been set to leave Friday afternoon to attend a fundraiser at his 
Palm Beach, Florida, estate marking the inauguration anniversary but delayed 
his travel.

   The last shutdown came in 2013. Tea party Republicans, in a strategy not 
unlike the one Schumer is employing now, sought to use a must-pass budget bill 
to try to force President Barack Obama to delay implementation of his health 
care law. At the time, Trump told "Fox & Friends" that the ultimate blame for a 
shutdown lies at the top. "I really think the pressure is on the president," he 
said.

   Arguing that Trump's predecessors "weaponized" that shutdown, Mulvaney said 
his budget office would direct agencies to work to mitigate the impact this 
time. That position is a striking role reversal for the conservative former 
congressman who was one of the architects of the 2013 shutdown.


(KA)

 
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