U.S. President Donald Trump continued Saturday to stress the need for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall as a partial government shutdown, triggered by a stalemate over funding for the project, entered its eighth day.
In a tweet Saturday, Trump said Democrats should take the initiative on ending the shutdown, saying, “I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal” on border security.
A budget standoff remains between Trump, who wants $5 billion in wall funding, and Democratic lawmakers, who back a modest increase in overall border security funding but resolutely oppose a wall.
Close border, cut aid
In a series of tweets Friday, Trump again threatened to close the entire U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if Congress failed to give him money to fund the wall. He also asked for changes in what he said was the United States’ “ridiculous immigration laws.”
Closing the U.S.-Mexican border would mean disrupting a $1.68 billion-a-day trade relationship between the two countries. In addition, immigrant advocates have called any move to seal the border “disgraceful.”
In a tweet Saturday, Trump linked Democrats’ “pathetic immigration policies” with the deaths of two Guatemalan children while they were in U.S. custody.
His comments, the first to reference the children’s deaths, came the same day that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was finishing a two-day visit to the southern U.S. border, where she said in a statement, “The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis.”
Trump has declined to comment on whether he might accept less than $5 billion for wall funding. When asked Wednesday how long he thought the shutdown would last, Trump told reporters, “Whatever it takes.”
420,000 work without pay
Out of a workforce of about 2.1 million federal employees, more than 800,000 have been furloughed without pay. About 420,000 of those furloughed employees are being required to work without pay.
Democrats have blamed Trump for “plunging the country into chaos” and have noted that, weeks ago, Trump said he would be proud to own a shutdown over border wall funding.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and presumed incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a joint statement, “The president wanted the shutdown, but seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”
The Republican Party controls the White House, as well as both chambers of Congress. Next Thursday, however, a new Congress, with a Democrat-controlled House, will be seated.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Channel on Friday, “We’re here, and they know where to find us.”
Mulvaney also blamed Democrats for the continuing shutdown, saying they have refused to negotiate since the White House made an offer last weekend.
Lorella Praeli, deputy political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that Congress has an obligation to serve as a check on the executive branch.
“This government shutdown is due solely to Trump’s border wall obsession and his refusal to abandon his anti-immigrant agenda, even at the cost of denying hundreds of thousands of federal workers their holiday paychecks and impacting operations at several federal agencies,” Praeli said.
Among the government agencies affected by the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 are the departments of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Interior and the Executive Office of the President.
Early Saturday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had funding through midnight Friday, was shutdown. Many of the agency’s 14,000 employees are being furloughed, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said. Disaster-response teams and other employees deemed essential would continue to work, she added.
If the partial shutdown continues, the Smithsonian Institution said it would begin closing its 19 museums, art galleries and National Zoo starting midweek. The Smithsonian attractions drew nearly 21 million visitors by the end of October 2018, according to the institution’s website. It recorded 30 million visitors in 2017
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters Friday that Trump’s border-closure threat was an internal U.S. government matter.
“We take great care of the relationship with the government of the United States,” Lopez Obrador said. “Of course we will always defend our sovereignty. … We will always protect migrants, defend their human rights.”
Cutting funds to Central American countries would mean a cutback on humanitarian programs, according to State Department data. The aid includes assistance on civilian security, legal development and basic nutrition.
The largest grant was spent to help with agriculture in Guatemala, where the U.S. Agency for International Development says food security is a “grave concern.”