12 Jan 2019

Border wall: Trump backs away from national emergency

8:15 pm on 12 January 2019

The partial shutdown of the US government has become the longest on record, with still no end in sight to the political standoff.

An EPA employee holds a sign during a protest rally by government workers and concerned citizens against the government shutdown on Friday, January 11, 2019 at Post Office Square near the Federal building, headquarters for the EPA and IRS in Boston.AFP

Government workers and supporters hold a protest rally in Boston as the partial US government shutdown becomes the longest since 1995. Photo: AFP

On Saturday it reaches its 22nd day, overtaking the previous record - the 21-day shutdown in 1995-96 under then-President Bill Clinton.

President Donald Trump is refusing to approve a budget unless it includes funds for a wall on the Mexican border.

Democrats have rejected his request for $US5.7bn ($NZ8.35bn).

About a quarter of the federal government is still out of operation until a spending plan is agreed, leaving 800,000 employees unpaid.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump said he would not declare a national emergency right now, to end the standoff over border security that has shut down parts of the United States Government.

However, he is refusing to approve a federal budget unless it includes funding for his promised wall along the border with Mexico, which the Democrats are refusing to do.

Mr Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency, which would allow him to bypass Congress and build the wall.

He has the right to undertake a construction project of this scale in times of war and national emergency, usually by allocating funds from the Department of Defence.

But such a move would be hugely controversial, sparking allegations of the overuse of executive powers and it would almost certainly face huge legal challenges.

"I would actually say I would... because I'm allowed to do it," he told Fox News on Thursday. However, today he said he would not declare an emergency for now, preferring Congress to act.

On Friday, government workers missed their first payday of this shutdown. Some shared their blank payslips on social media.

Oscar Murillo, an aerospace engineer at Nasa, posted his $0 cheque on Twitter and said he had actually lost money because of mandatory deductions.

Another Twitter user, Cat Heifner, shared what she said was her brother's payslip which showed that he had been paid one cent for his work as an air traffic controller.

Meanwhile, the classified advertising website Craigslist has been flooded with listings from federal workers trying to sell their possessions. Items ranging from beds to old toys have been listed as "government shutdown specials".

"Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10," one advert for a child's rocking chair reads. "We need money to pay bills."

A food bank in Washington, DC, has also said an influx of federal workers has been coming in.

Radha Muthiah, the chief executive of Capital Area Food Bank, said that dozens of volunteers were working to pack bags of food for affected workers.

Of the 800,000 federal employees affected, about 350,000 are furloughed - a kind of temporary lay-off - while the rest are continuing to work.

the Miami International airport Terminal G on January 11, 2018 one day before it closes. It has been forced to shut down one of its terminals due to a shortage of security agents sparked by the partial US government shutdown

A terminal at Miami International Airport will be closed shortly because of a shortage of security guards caused by the partial government shutdown. Photo: AFP

There are reports that thousands of workers have filed for unemployment benefits amid the financial uncertainty, while others are calling in sick.

One major airport, Miami International, said it would close an entire terminal this weekend because so many security staff are off sick.

Some US media reports suggested the White House was considering diverting some of the $US13.9 billion allocated last year by Congress for disaster relief in such areas as Puerto Rico, Texas and California to pay for the wall.

NBC News reported on Thursday that Mr Trump had been briefed on such a plan but the White House denied it.

Analysts say the national emergency move would provide political cover to reopen government while allowing Mr Trump to argue he has done all he can to fulfil his campaign promise.

The BBC's correspondent in Washington said that, with no further talks with the Democrats planned, this now seemed the most likely option for the president.

The shutdown is the longest since 1995 and is just hours away from becoming the longest ever.


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