Government Shuts Down Over Border Wall Impasse

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) returns to the Capitol on Dec. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down for the third time in 2018 over the border wall appropriations impasse, with both parties blaming each other and one House office branding it “the nightmare before Christmas.”

It’s the first time since 1977 that the government has closed over a budget dispute three times in a year.

With several senators not yet back in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote for the Senate to begin consideration of the House bill that provides more than $5 billion for a border wall.

Senators vowed to not vote on a bill until there’s an agreement between leaders. The House adjourned Friday and was not planning to come back for Saturday votes.

“Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!” President Trump tweeted.

Despite Trump’s Twitter pleas for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to deploy the nuclear option that would do away with the 60-vote cloture threshold, McConnell made clear on the Senate floor Friday evening that “any eventual solution will require 60 votes here in the Senate.”

“It’s been clear that from the beginning that two things are necessary: The support from enough Senate Democrats to pass the proposal at 60, and a presidential signature,” he said. “As a result, the Senate has voted to proceed to the legislation before us in order to preserve maximum flexibility for productive conversations to continue between the White House and our Democratic colleagues.”

“I hope Senate Democrats will work with the White House on an agreement that can pass both houses of Congress and receive the president’s signature,” McConnell added. “So, colleagues, when an agreement is reached, it will receive a vote here on the Senate floor.”

David Popp, McConnell’s communications director, said in a statement earlier that McConnell “has said for years that the votes are not there in the Conference to use the nuclear option —  just this morning, several senators put out statements confirming their opposition, and confirming that there is not a majority in the conference to go down that road.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a joint statement said the president “threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season.”

“President Trump has said more than 25 times that he wanted a shutdown and now he has gotten what he wanted,” Schumer and Pelosi said. “Democrats have offered Republicans multiple proposals to keep the government open, including one that already passed the Senate unanimously, and all of which include funding for strong, sensible, and effective border security – not the president’s ineffective and expensive wall.”

“If President Trump and Republicans choose to continue this Trump Shutdown, the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government in January,” they added.

Trump delayed his departure for his Mar-a-Lago vacation to stick around D.C. for the shutdown. He tweeted an illustration not of any of the concrete wall prototypes but of a fence with the vertical poles narrowed into sharp points at the top. “A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!” he added.

The shutdown is partial as it won’t affect the workforce in departments where appropriations bills have already been signed, including Defense, Education, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Labor, and Heath and Human Services.

Employees in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development would be affected, though, as their appropriations bills remain outstanding. Workers whose jobs are categorized as urgent keep working without pay through a shutdown.

“Although we are hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration, employees should report to work for their next regularly scheduled tour of duty to undertake orderly shutdown activities,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in a memo to federal agencies. “We will issue another memorandum reopening government functions once the President has signed a bill providing for appropriations.”