‘Democrats must co-operate’

US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump
Image: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump said on Sunday he was holding off on declaring a state of emergency to end the partial US government shutdown that dragged into a 23rd day, as he insisted on $5.7bn (R89bn) to build a Mexico border wall that congressional Democrats oppose.

Asked by Fox News why he did not immediately declare a national emergency to secure the funds without congressional approval, Trump said he wanted to give opposition Democratic legislators more time to strike a deal.

“I want to give them the chance to see if they can act responsibly,” he told Fox.

The government shutdown became the longest on record at midnight on Friday, when it overtook a 21-day stretch in 1995/1996 under Bill Clinton.

Trump fired off a series of tweets on Saturday in an effort to defend his stance and goad Democrats to return to Washington and end what he called “the massive humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border”.

“Democrats could solve the Shutdown in 15 minutes!” he said in one tweet, adding in another, “We will be out for a long time unless the Democrats come back from their ‘vacations’ and get back to work. I am in the White House ready to sign!”

But most lawmakers left town on Friday and will not return before Monday, leaving little chance for any solution to the stalemate before then.

The impasse has paralysed Washington – its effect felt increasingly around the country – with the president refusing to sign off on budgets for swathes of government departments unrelated to the dispute.

As a result, 800,000 federal employees – including FBI agents, air traffic controllers and museum staff – received no pay on Friday.

At a White House meeting on Friday, Trump described an emergency declaration as the easy way out and said Congress had to step up to the responsibility of approving funding for the wall.

“If they can’t do it . . . I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right,” he said.

Trump, however, acknowledged that such a move would probably trigger a legal battle ending in the Supreme Court.

He pushed back on Saturday on a media report that his White House was chaotic, with no plan or strategy to end the shutdown.

To understand the plan “you would have to understand that I won the election, and I promised a Wall at the Southern Border.

“Elections have consequences!” Trump tweeted.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the US-Mexican border presents challenges, but Trump has turned his single-minded push for more walls into a crusade that opponents say is a stunt to stoke xenophobia in his right-wing voter base.

For the president, who visited the Texas border with Mexico on Thursday, the border situation amounts to an invasion by criminals.

Only in recent days has he begun describing the problem as “humanitarian”.