Trump, Democrats play the blame game as shutdown drags into 2nd weekend

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrats continued trading blame as the partial government shutdown dragged into its second weekend, but did little to make any headway in the standoff that has disrupted federal services and public employees' pay.

2 sides still 'far apart,' says White House as Trump digs in on border wall funding

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress have shown no sign of nearing a deal to end the partial federal government shutdown. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrats continued trading blame as the partial government shutdown dragged into its second weekend, but did little to make any headway in the standoff that has disrupted federal services and public employees' pay.

Trump upped the brinkmanship by threatening anew to close the border with Mexico in order to press Congress to cave to his demand for money to pay for a wall. Democrats vowed to pass legislation restoring the government as soon as they take control of the House on Thursday, but that won't accomplish anything unless Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate go along with it.

Cooped up in the White House after cancelling a planned vacation to his private Florida club, Trump tweeted Saturday that he's "in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on border security."

But there has been little direct contact between either side during the stalemate, and Trump did not ask Republicans — who hold a monopoly on power in Washington for another five days — to keep Congress in session.

The president did, however, leave the White House on Friday night to join the three men at the centre of the negotiations: Vice-President Mike Pence; Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law; and incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

As he called for Democrats to negotiate on the wall, Trump brushed off blame that his administration bore any responsibility for the recent deaths of two migrant children in U.S. Border Patrol custody. Trump claimed the deaths were "strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally."

His comments on Twitter came as his Homeland Security secretary met with medical professionals and ordered policy changes meant to better protect children detained at the border.

The effects to the public of the impasse grew as the Environmental Protection Agency, which had the money to function a week longer than some agencies, implemented its shutdown plan at midnight Friday night.

EPA spokesperson Molly Block said many of the agency's 14,000 employees were being furloughed, while disaster-response teams and certain other employees deemed essential would stay on the job.

Also running short on money: the Smithsonian Institution, which said its museums and galleries popular with visitors and locals in the capital will close starting midweek if the partial shutdown drags on.

But federal flood insurance policies will continue to be issued and renewed, in a reversal prompted by pressure from lawmakers, said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Two sides 'far apart'

Trump appeared no closer to securing money for his signature border wall, which he vowed during the campaign that Mexico would pay for. Now Democratic leaders are adamant that they will not authorize money for the project, calling it wasteful and ineffective. They show no signs of bending, either.

"We are far apart," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CBS on Friday.

Trump tweeted: "We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with." He also threatened to cut off U.S. aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, among countries he deems have not done enough to combat illegal immigration.

He's made similar threats in the past without following through, and it is Congress, not the president, that appropriates aid money.

'We're in this for the long haul'

Mulvaney said Democrats are no longer negotiating with the administration over an earlier offer by the White House to accept less than the $5 billion US Trump wants for the wall.

Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion for border security, but that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Pence that it wasn't acceptable. It was also not guaranteed that Trump would settle for that amount.

"There's not a single Democrat talking to the president of the United States about this deal," Mulvaney said Friday.

Speaking on Fox News and later to reporters, he tried to drive a wedge between Democrats, pinning the blame on House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California has vowed to pass legislation to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown as soon as she takes the gavel on Jan. 3. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Mulvaney said Schumer was "really interested in doing a deal and coming to some sort of compromise" but he understood that Pelosi was at risk of losing the speakership of the House if she went along. "So we're in this for the long haul," he said.

In fact, Pelosi has all but locked up the support she needs to win the speaker's gavel Thursday and there has been no sign that she and Schumer are in conflict.

"For the White House to try and blame anyone but the president for this shutdown doesn't pass the laugh test," said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.

Pelosi has vowed to pass legislation to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown as soon as she takes the gavel, which is expected when the new Congress convenes. But that alone won't solve the shutdown, absent Senate approval and Trump's signature.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reacted cautiously to Trump's threat to close the border, calling it an "internal affair of the U.S. government."

"We are always seeking a good relationship with the United States. We do not want to be rash," he said.

As for the EPA, workers needed for preventing immediate public health threats at more than 800 hazardous-waste sites will remain on the job as well as emergency response workers for disasters.


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