Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

US government reopens but spectre of February 15 closure hangs heavy

President Donald Trump again says he will build Mexico border wall despite Democrats forcing him into climbdown

US President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down government again if he does not get funding for a border wall. AFP
US President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down government again if he does not get funding for a border wall. AFP

Parts of America's federal government reopened on Monday after the longest shutdown in US history, but the threat of another closure looms over Washington with President Donald Trump adamant that a wall will be built along the Mexican border.

The 35-day hiatus caused 800,000 federal workers to miss two salary payments and only ended when Mr Trump agreed to a short-term funding deal last week, having been forced to back down when his tactic of pushing Democrats toward more favourable negotiations with the White House failed.

The threat of a second shutdown, however, remains pressing. The interim agreement lasts only until February 15 and without a breakthrough over the $5.7 billion (Dh21bn) Mr Trump wants to pay for the wall the US could find itself back in the same position.

The president on Sunday sought to recover some of the ground he has lost after a week of sliding job approval ratings and criticism of his handling of the shutdown and the border wall row.

“After all that I have done for the Military, our great Veterans, Judges (99), Justices (2), Tax & Regulation Cuts, the Economy, Energy, Trade & MUCH MORE, does anybody really think I won’t build the WALL? Done more in first two years than any President! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he tweeted.

Mr Trump's message followed a backlash from some of his normally biggest media admirers, including the Conservative columnist Ann Coulter who branded the president the “biggest wimp ever” for failing to secure wall funding.

The shutdown left workers unpaid but its effect of leaving millions of Americans angered by being unable to get access to basic government services appeared to force the president's climbdown. The prospect of airport safety being compromised, with many unpaid air traffic controllers refusing to turn up to work, seemed a watershed. LaGuardia Airport in New York closed temporarily on Friday. Hours later Mr Trump announced that he would sign off on a Congressional plan to end the shutdown, handing a public victory to Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, Mrs Pelosi is aiming to pass a pay rise for all federal workers. Senate Republicans are pushing a Middle East bill that includes a plan to target the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. But it is the issue of the wall that will continue to make the running in Washington until the deadline for a new agreement to fund government expires in less than three weeks.

Mr Trump's room for manoeuvre appears only to have narrowed after last week but in an interview with The Wall Street Journal he raised the prospect of another standoff with Democrats.

“I personally think it's less than 50-50,” he said, referring to the likelihood of an agreement over wall funding being struck.

Such a stalemate increases the chances of Mr Trump attempting to bypass Congress and instead use executive powers granted under the presidency to get what he wants. That could include him declaring a national emergency over the border and immigration, which he repeatedly talked of doing during the shutdown but did not in the end follow through on.

Updated: January 28, 2019 10:01 PM