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Trump losing battle to avoid blame for shutdown as it enters day 23

Trump losing battle to avoid blame for shutdown as it enters day 23

Donald Trump is losing the battle to avoid blame for the government shutdown, according to a new poll. The president has reportedly told advisers he thinks the 23-day partial closure of the federal government, the longest ever, is a win for him. ‘It’s ruining people’s lives’: federal workers count cost of shutdown Read more A…

Donald Trump is losing the battle to avoid blame for the government shutdown, according to a new poll. The president has reportedly told advisers he thinks the 23-day partial closure of the federal government, the longest ever, is a win for him.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday followed trends in previous polling when it showed 53% of respondents saying Trump and Republicans in Congress were to blame for the shutdown, with 29% blaming Democrats and 13% a combination.

Support for building a border wall, the issue at the heart of the shutdown, increased in the Post-ABC poll to 42%, from 34% in January 2018. Among Republicans, 87% support a wall.

On Saturday night, Trump spoke to Fox News host Jeannine Pirro by phone from a drastically understaffed White House. Asked why he had yet to declare a national emergency, to build the wall with funds from military, disaster relief or other budgets, a step Democrats oppose but may be unable to stop, he said he was giving Congress a chance to “act responsibly”.

Trump also said he has “no idea” whether he could get a deal with Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposes spending money on an “ineffective, wasteful wall” she has also called “immoral”.

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Trump promised a wall on the southern border throughout his presidential campaign. He also promised Mexico would pay for it, a vow he now says he will meet through savings from a new trade deal. He has demanded $5.7bn from Congress. Through weeks of fruitless talks and tactical switches, the Democrats have refused to give it.

Senate Republicans, however, will not pass legislation sent to them by House Democrats to reopen the government without wall funding, as Trump would not sign it.

The president spent Saturday tweeting at Democrats from the White House, repeatedly claiming they were on “vacation”. In fact Congress was out for the weekend and many legislators left Washington ahead of an incoming snowstorm.

On Fox News, Trump said: “I’m in the White House, and most of them are in different locations. They’re watching a certain musical in a very nice location.”

Host Jeannine Pirro said: “Of course, in Puerto Rico watching Hamilton.”

“Frankly,” Trump said, “It’s ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous.”

Around 30 congressional Democrats, Pelosi among them, are expected to visit Puerto Rico as its star and creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, opens the show there.

The trip has a political dimension: highlighting recovery work after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017 and to which Trump’s response is a continuing source of controversy. Miranda’s father Luis Miranda, a Democratic consultant, told CBS News the politicians would “get to experience first hand the needs of the island, so that they go back and sort of fight Trump and the Republicans.”

Luis Miranda also told the Guardian: “I hate Trump and anything I could do to defeat Republicans, even now my friends who are Republicans, I would do because they have allowed the party to be hijacked by this orange nut.”

Around the US, about 800,000 federal workers are without pay and key government departments and services are increasingly underfunded and threatened. On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling in Abu Dhabi, claimed morale is good among diplomats even as many work without pay.

“We’re doing our best to make sure it doesn’t impact our diplomacy,” he said.

Almost half of state department employees in the US and about a quarter abroad have been furloughed. With the exception of certain local employees overseas, the rest are working without pay, like those supporting Pompeo’s trip, which has taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain and has more stops to come.

Regarding the declaration of a national emergency, administration officials explored diverting money from accounts including $13.9bn given to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s hurricanes and floods. That appeared to lose steam following an outcry. Other possibilities included asset forfeiture funds, such as money seized from criminals.

Senior adviser Jared Kushner was among those opposed to the declaration, arguing to his father-in-law that pursuing a broader immigration deal was a better option. But some outside advisers to the president say a national emergency would allow Trump to claim he was the one to act to reopen the government. Also, legal challenges would send the matter to court, allowing Trump to continue to excite his supporters while not actually closing the government or starting construction.

Some Republicans, however, believe such a declaration would usurp congressional power and could lead future Democratic presidents to make similar moves to advance liberal priorities.

Pelosi has argued that Trump is merely trying to steer attention away from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and links between the president and Russia, and other White House problems.

“This is a big diversion, and he’s a master of diversion,” she told reporters.

Trump’s volcanic reaction to a report about Trump and Russia in the New York Times suggested he might be losing that mastery.

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