A plan backed by Donald Trump to reopen the federal government while providing $5.7bn to build a wall on the southwest US border has failed in the Republican-controlled Senate, just a day before federal workers across the country are expected to miss their second paycheck in a month as a result of the shutdown.
The vote was one of two that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to bring up for a vote on Thursday, both of which missed the 60-vote cloture mark necessary to proceed. The second, Democart-supported bill would have reopened the government without border wall funding, but failed even though it received more “yay” votes than the president’s proposal.
The agreement between Mr McConnell and Mr Schumer to bring the bills to a vote at all marks one of the first — if not the only — times that members from the two parties have agreed to much of anything when it comes to the shutdown since it began last month. As roughly 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or forced to work without pay, politicans in Washington have largely made political gestures and stood on opposite sides of a growing divide over how to reopen the government.
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Thirty-four days in, the failure in the Senate left no clear path forward for Washington to reopen the government.
Soon after the votes in the Senate were cast, it was reported that talks had already begun on a temporary, three-week deal to reopen the government, which the White House indicated could only go forward if a sizeable down payment on the border wall were included.
“One of the ideas suggested is they open, they pay some sort of pro-rated down payment on the wall which you need”, Mr Trump said. “I have other alternatives if I have to … we have to have a wall in this situation”.
But, while both sides have largely issued mutually exclusive demands, senators on Thursday said that the vote shows that they will eventually need to come together on a deal.
This will “teach us that the leaders are going to have to get together and figure out how to resolve this,” Republican Senator John Thune, the No 2 Senate GOP leader, said. He continued: “One way or another we’ve got to get out of this. This is no win for anybody”.
Mr Trump has indicated that he is comfortable allowing the government shutdown to last a long time, having said that he would let it last “months” or “years” if necessary during a White House meeting with Congressional leaders on 4 Januray. On Wednesday, he reiterated his belief that the shutdown could extend a long time, even after he delivered his first prime time address to gin up support earlier this year, and another address to the nation offering temporary relief for so-called Dreamers in exchange for border funding this past weekend.
The government shutdown has even claimed the 2019 State of the Union as a casualty, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi telling the president on Wednesday that he would not be invited to deliver the yearly speech in the Capitol until after the government is reopened. Mr Trump, who had sent Ms Pelosi a defiant letter saying he would deliver the speech no matter what, responded by blaming her for the cancelled speech, but ultimately decided not to hold a separate event as he had contemplated.
“The State of the Union speech has been cancelled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” Mr Trump said, describing the decision as a “great blotch” on the reputation of the United States.
He continued, figuring the shutdown would continue on for a long time: “I guess we’re going for a while”.
As the political drama plays out in Washington, some 800,000 federal workers are grappling with the more immediate consequequeences of the shutdown as they edge closer to missing a second pay cheque in just a month’s time. There are nine departments that have seen lapses in funding either starting on or following the 22 December deadline.
Included in the ranks of those furloughed are those in the Department of Homeland Security — some 240,000 workers from agencies including the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) workers, Border Patrol, and Coast Guard — as well as the Department of Justice — another 116,470 employees including prison workers and immigration lawyers — and others.
The situation for those workers is becoming increasingly dire, according to interviews with federal employees and union representatives impacted by the shutdown, and more and more workers are calling in sick, seemingly because they cannot afford the gas to drive to work or ensure that their childcare bills are taken care of.
“You’re just going to have more people not being able to make it into work. That’s going to cause a downhill spiral with falloffs and people not coming to work,” Justin Tarovisky, a Federal Prison Bureau worker in West Virginia told The Independent. “When you work a job where you’re supposed to be there, it’s a max security penitentiary, you have to be able to staff it”.
Mr Trump has signed a bill ensuring that federal workers would be given backpay once the government is reopened, and hundreds of banks or credit unions are offering low or no-interest loans for federal workers impacted by the shutdown.
Even so, some workers have been forced to rely on food banks for supplis without their income.
Commerce Secetary Wilbur Ross, responding to reports of federal employees signing of for food bank assistance, said on Thursday that he did not understand why they would do so instead of applying for a loan.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, soon after the Senate vote, said that he had been speaking with the president and that they had discussed a potential three-week stop-gap funding bill to reopen the government temporarily. Congressional leaders were reportedly starting to discuss that option on Thursday.
But, Mr Graham noted that it is not a certain deal: “Money for a barrier is required to get this deal done”, he said.