US government in partial shutdown, no sign of movement on talks

Washington -By Shabtai Gold, - The US federal government was in partial shutdown Saturday after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on a funding bill, with President Donald Trump insisting on more than 5 billion dollars for a wall on the border with Mexico.

The shutdown, which currently has no quick end in sight, is affecting nine departments and hundreds of thousands of employees shortly before Christmas.

The Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, convened in the afternoon, but lawmakers made clear there was no progress yet on breaking the impasse. Trump does not have enough votes in the Senate to pass a funding bill with allocations for the wall. 
This is the third shutdown since the president took office less than two years ago and it comes at a turbulent time for the White House, amid departures by high-level personnel and a host of legal woes that has netted members of Trump's inner circle. 
Mitch McConnell, the leader of Trump's centre-right Republican Party in the Senate, said he hoped a deal can be reached "sooner rather than later." 
A senior administration official insisted that the president was open to meeting his rivals from the centre-left Democrats, but that funding for border security is a must.
"Our hope is this partial shutdown only lasts for a few days. It could last longer than that, but that is not something we hope for," the official said.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill which included funding the wall, passing the onus to Senate. The lower chamber will come under control of the Democrats in January, after the midterm elections.
"We are going to have a shutdown, there is nothing we can do about that, because we need the Democrats to give us their votes," Trump said in a video message released hours before the funding gap kicked in, blaming the opposition party in the Senate.
It was a reversal for Trump, who had previously said he was "proud" to have a shutdown and would personally take full responsibility.
"The shutdown will hopefully not last long," Trump said in his video, even after earlier warning that "we are totally prepared for a very long shutdown." 
Democrats insist they will not approve additional funding for a border wall, one of Trump's most famous campaign promises.
"We arrived at this moment because President Trump has been on a destructive two-week temper tantrum, demanding the American taxpayer pony up for an expensive and ineffective border wall that the president promised Mexico would pay for," said Chuck Schumer, the Democrat's leader in the Senate.
A senior official said the administration was focused on getting funding from Congress, and was not going to wait on Mexico, which says it will not cover the costs. 
The shutdown comes amid deep troubles for the Trump administration, with the resignation this week of Jim Mattis, the secretary of defence, amid stark disagreements over policy in Syria.
His departure will be the latest in a string of high level officials who left the White House since January 2017, including chiefs-of-staff, an attorney-general, a secretary of state and a wave of other top figures. 
Meanwhile, US stock markets had their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. Uncertainty over the shutdown has added to concerns. Key indices have wiped out all their gains for the year. 


Saturday, December 22nd 2018
By Shabtai Gold,

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