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U.S. government shutdown looms as lawmakers seek last-minute compromise

U.S. government shutdown looms as lawmakers seek last-minute compromise
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By Ginger Gibson, Steve Holland and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday there was a good chance the Senate would not approve his demand for $5 billion toward funding his long-demanded border wall and that there probably would be a partial U.S. government shutdown at midnight.

Lawmakers scrambled to find an 11th-hour solution to avert the potential shutdown, meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and senior White House officials. Negotiators in the Senate were discussing legislation that would include $1.6 billion in border security money and retaining assistance for areas hit by natural disasters that was added by the House of Representatives, according to a Republican Senate aide.

Before meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House, Trump wrote on Twitter that “Democrats now own the shutdown,” despite having said last week that he would be “proud” to close the federal government over the issue of border security and “I’ll be the one to shut it down.”

Congressional funding for large segments of the government expires at midnight (0500 GMT), and a shutdown would ensue if Congress, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, does not pass legislation to provide money to keep the agencies open.

“It’s possible that we’ll have a shutdown. I would say the chances are probably very good,” Trump said at the White House.

“We’re going to get a wall,” Trump added.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer put the blame for the impending shutdown squarely on Trump.

“President Trump has thrown a temper tantrum and now has us careening towards a ‘Trump shutdown’ over Christmas,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

“You’re not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd, when Democrats take control of the House,” Schumer added.

A Schumer spokesman said the senator met with Pence, Trump’s new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

A senior Senate Republican aide said there was hope that Democrats and Republicans could find a “sweet spot” in a temporary spending bill that would provide more money for border security than was in the bill the Senate passed earlier this week – but not the $5 billion for a wall that the House approved.

A wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking was a key Trump campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and he sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign. Democrats oppose the wall, calling it unnecessary and ineffective.

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio expressed frustration with what they said was a shifting position by the White House. Rubio said that earlier in the week the Republicans went with their funding bill, which included $1.6 billion for general border security but nothing specifically for a wall, because Pence had told them the White House was open to such a proposal.

“We had a reasonable path and there was every indication from the president that he would sign it,” Alexander said.

PROCEDURALVOTE

Trump had summoned Senate Republicans to the White House on Friday morning to push for his wall funding before they took up procedural votes on whether to consider a bill passed by the House granting $5 billion for the wall. But afterward he said there was a good chance the bill would not clear the Senate and that a shutdown was likely.

The procedural vote stretched over several hours because many senators left Washington to start their Christmas break, thinking the temporary funding issue was settled on Wednesday, and had to return to the Capitol.

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Earlier in the week the Senate, where Republicans have a 51-49 majority, passed a short-term government funding bill that included no money for the wall. On Friday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his members to vote for a bill that was approved by the House on Thursday to give Trump $5 billion toward building the wall on the Mexican border.

In a series of early-morning tweets on Friday, Trump called on McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with a simple majority, rather than the standard “supermajority” of 60 votes. But there was not enough support among Republican senators to do so.

BADDAY ON WALLSTREET

The possibility of a government shutdown fed investor anxieties that contributed to another down day on Friday for U.S. stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 1.82 percent, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 2.06 percent and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 2.99 percent.

The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump’s sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to resign and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won.

Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through the end of the federal fiscal year next Sept. 30, including those in the Defence Department, Labour Department and Health and Human Services.

But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Agriculture Department, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.

A partial government shutdown could begin with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed “essential” to public safety. Such critical workers, including U.S. border agents, and nonessential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.

More than half of the 1,700 people who work for the executive office of the president would be furloughed.

Trump had planned to leave Washington on Friday for a holiday stay at his Florida resort, but the standoff made his plans uncertain.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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