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Trump and Democrats Play Blame Game Over Government Shutdown

President calls it a Democratic shutdown, while Democrats opposed to border wall funding chide Trump’s ‘temper tantrum’

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The US Capitol on the first morning of a partial government shutdown., Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

With the US under the first day of a partial government shutdown, Donald Trump and Democrats sought to apportion the blame.

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers were either forced to take unpaid time off or forced to work without pay at the start of the Christmas season, the president said Americans should “call it a Democrat shutdown” and said it “could be a long stay”.

Democratic leaders blamed Trump for a “temper tantrum” – and pointed out that only last week, the president said he would welcome a shutdown over border security and would in fact be proud to force one.

The shutdown occurred after Trump demanded budget legislation including funding for a wall on the southern border with Mexico – a key campaign promise – and Democrats refused to give it to him.

Speaking in the Senate on Saturday, minority leader Chuck Schumer addressed the president directly, saying: “If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall.”

Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said the onus for coming up with a solution was now on the Democrats and Trump.

Trump had seemed set to avoid a shutdown. Then he reversed under pressure from rightwing media and backed a bill passed by House Republicans that gave him wall funding but which stood no chance of gaining the necessary votes in the Senate.

The shutdown is the third in a year, the result of partisan dysfunction notable even by Washington standards. The national mood has been affected. After an even more tumultuous week than usual under Trump, which included the resignation of the defense secretary, James Mattis, stock markets closed well down on Friday after their worst week in a decade. On Saturday Trump lost another senior government official, the anti-Isis envoy Brett McGurk.

The shutdown began at midnight. Trump remained at the White House, his Christmas vacation in Florida on hold. The first lady, Melania Trump, flew to Mar-a-Lago on Friday. The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, key advisers, remained in Washington.

In a video posted to social media on Friday night, Trump said: “Now it’s up to the Senate, and it’s really up to the Democrats, because we need their votes. We’re going to have a shutdown. There’s nothing we can do about that.

“Call it a Democrat shutdown, call it whatever you want. Let’s work together, let’s be bipartisan and let’s get it done. The shutdown hopefully will not last long.”

In a statement, Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Instead of honouring his responsibility to the American people, President Trump 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 also said that if the shutdown persisted, Democrats would pass legislation to reopen the government when they take over the House in January.

The billionaire Tom Steyer, who has campaigned for Trump’s impeachment and is reported to be considering a run for the presidency, said in a statement the shutdown was “just another example of why Trump is unfit for office”.

He added: “We need a president who fights for the American people and improves our country, not one who threatens the jobs and well-being of federal employees to promote his racist agenda.”

The shutdown was reported to be among issues – including market instability, Trump’s surprise announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Syria and the resignation of Mattis – placing pressure on Trump’s relations with Republicans in the Senate, a bloc key to fighting off any impeachment effort.

The president’s first tweet on Saturday, shortly after 11am, aimed to defend his behaviour.

“I am in the White House, working hard,” he wrote. “News reports concerning the Shutdown and Syria are mostly FAKE. We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security (Gangs, Drugs, Human Trafficking & more) but it could be a long stay.”

He subsequently said a “large group concerning border security” would meet for lunch at the White House. The White House provided a list of lunch guests, all presidential aides and Republicans from Congress but none of them party leaders.

In a memo to government executives on Friday, the White House budget chief and incoming acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said the administration was “hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration” and that employees should report to work when scheduled to “undertake orderly shutdown activities”.

Those being furloughed include nearly all staff at Nasa and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About eight in 10 employees of the National Park Service will stay home. The Senate passed legislation ensuring workers will receive back pay, which the House seems sure to approve.

Some agencies, including the defense, veterans’ affairs and health and human services departments, were already funded. The US Postal Service will not be affected because it is an independent agency. The FBI, border patrol and coast guard are also still functioning. Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers will also remain at work.

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