Thousands of federal workers missed their first pay cheque of the year on Friday as the US government shutdown neared an ignominious record for the longest in the nation’s history.
More than 800,000 public sector staff are either furloughed or have been working without any guarantee of pay since the current impasse began on 22 December.
Donald Trump had threatened to declare a national emergency to bypass congress and force through the spending plan at the centre of the dispute, which includes $5.7bn (£4.5bn) funding for the president’s controversial border wall contested by Democrats. But on Friday, the president said he would not declare on "right now".
The government shutdown will become the longest in US history on Saturday, surpassing the 21-day deadlock seen between December 1995 and January 1996 during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“The easy solution is for me to call a national emergency. I could do that very quickly,” Mr Trump said during a White House event on border security. “I have the absolute right to do it. But I'm not going to do it so fast. Because this is something Congress should do.”
Mr Trump spoke after legislators had left Washington for the weekend, precluding any possible action until next week.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Trump needs to make the next move to end the impasses.
“When the president acts, we will respond to whatever he does,” Ms Pelosi told reporters at a ceremonial event following congressional passage of legislation guaranteeing that federal employees will receive back pay once government agencies reopen.
To see how the day unfolded follow our live blog below
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Hello and welcome to live updates on the US government shutdown from The Independent as the deadlock in Washington enters a 21st day.
Shutdown hits federal workers in the pocket
Most of the 800,000 federal workers currently furloughed or working without any guarantee of pay are thought to have missed out on their wages on Friday – what had been scheduled to be their first payday of 2019.
Staff working for a wide variety of government agencies have been affected. Thousands of IRS and Nasa employees have been given unpaid leave, while more than 40,000 law enforcement officials and 50,000 essential Transport Security Administration (TSA) officers are working without pay.
Shutdown on course to become longest in history
Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich during the 1995-1996 shutdown (Getty)The shutdown has now entered an unsurpassed 21st day and is only a matter of hours away from breaking the record for the longest in US history.
It would move ahead of the shutdown that ran between December 1995 and January 1996, which took place during the presidency of Bill Clinton.
That standoff resulted from a disagreement over budget talks between Mr Clinton and then house speaker, Republican Newt Gingrich, over government spending and tax cuts.
If an agreement is not reached to end the current shutdown by the early hours of Saturday morning, which seems unlikely unless significant progress is made in talks today, it will become the longest ever.
Donald Trump continues to lobby for his border wall, over which the current government shutdown has been caused, this time offering a rallying cry in a baffling tweet.
The president said on Thursday evening the country loses “300 Americans a week, 90% of which comes through the Southern Border.”
The tweet appears to have confused many, but it seems likely Mr Trump meant to include the word “heroin” in the post.
If he did, he would be repeating the claim made during his televised Oval Office address earlier in the week that 90 per cent of heroin sold in the US is trafficked across the border from Mexico.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agrees most heroin brought into America comes through its southern border, the agency says the vast majority is smuggled through legal border crossing points, suggesting a wall would do little to curb the problem.
The president is now thought to be seriously considering drastic measures to break the deadlock in Washington and secure funding for his border wall without approval from the Democrats.
Mr Trump repeated a threat on Thursday to declare a national emergency in order to build the wall if congress did not agree to his spending plans.
However, he is reportedly considering whether to use part of a $13.9bn (£10.8bn) disaster relief fund to pay for construction.
The money had been set aside to help hurricane-damaged areas of Puerto Rico and wildfire-hit California.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed, contrary to evidence, there is a growing immigration and security “crisis” at the border.
Trump reiterates national emergency threats on Texas trip
Donald Trump visited the border city of McAllen on Thursday (AP)Donald Trump paid a visit to the Texas border city of McAllen and the Rio Grande river on Thursday, to highlight what he is attempting to paint as a crisis of drugs and crime.
He threatened once again to declare a national emergency in order to force through a funding package for his wall without the approval of the Democrats.
“We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn't have to,” the president told reporters. “This is just common sense.”
Mr Trump is consulting with White House lawyers and allies about using presidential emergency powers to take unilateral action to construct the wall over objections in congress.
He claimed his lawyers told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny “100 per cent”.
Such a move to bypass US congress’ constitutional control of government spending would spark certain legal challenges and bipartisan claims of executive over-reach.
Meanwhile, a TV station editor has found himself in hot water after doctored footage of Donald Trump’s Oval Office address on border security was aired.
The Seattle-based Fox affiliate, Q13, broadcast images in which the president’s face was altered to appear more orange, while his tongue was shown hanging languidly from his mouth for a prolonged period of time.
A spokesman for the channel said the unnamed editor had been fired for failing to “meet editorial standards”.
Dan Crenshaw, the newly-elected Republican representative for Texas’s second congressional district, has asked for his pay to be withheld while the shutdown causes uncertainty for huge numbers of federal employees.
Hundreds of thousands of staff for government agencies were due to receive their first pay cheque of the year today, but most will not see their money.
“I cannot in good conscience get paid while federal employees’ financial futures hang in the balance because of this partial government shutdown,” Mr Crenshaw wrote on Twitter.
“I’ve asked the Chief Administrative Officer to withhold my pay until we have come to an agreement to adequately fund border security.”
Roughly 800,000 federal employees have been either sent on unpaid leave or been asked to work without any guarantees they will receive money for their time while the shutdown is ongoing.
Congress would need to agree a deal to see the staff remunerated once the dispute is brought to an end, as has commonly happened after previous shutdowns.
Furloughed workers search for second jobs to pay bills
IRS workers protest outside government offices in Utah (Reuters)With the government shutdown already having lasted for three weeks and with no end in sight, many furloughed federal workers are having to consider looking for a second job in order to pay the bills.
Rachael Weatherly, a mother-of-two from Maryland, is a senior adviser for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, she's now exploring the possibility to applying for a job at a grocery store.
She says a recent separation from her spouse has drained her bank account, leaving her unable to afford to miss a pay cheque.
In Utah, Tiauna Guerra is one of 3,750 IRS workers who have been furloughed. She is trying to get a job, but says employers are reluctant to hire her when they realise she could be heading back to her regular workplace in a matter of weeks.
In the meantime, she has been forced to take out a loan to make her car payment and she and her husband are delaying plans to move out of her parents’ house until the shutdown ends.
“We're barely getting by,” said Ms Guerra, a mother of two small children. “We are not able to pay a lot of our bills. We're having a hard time trying to buy gas, food.”
Donald Trump now claims despite his repeated claims over a number of years that Mexico would pay for his border wall plan, he “obviously never meant Mexico would write a cheque”.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Trump’s website stated the US’s southern neighbour would pay for the border security measure with a “one-time payment of $5-10 billion”.
However, speaking on Thursday, the president now claims he never explicitly said Mexico would directly pay for the wall, saying it would instead pay indirectly “many, many times over”.
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