US government shutdown latest: Donald Trump threatens Democrats with 51% ‘nuclear option’ after failure to pass spending bill

President urges ‘real, long-term budget’ plan instead of continuing resolution

Jon Sharman
Sunday 21 January 2018 13:45
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This is the moment the US government went into shutdown

Donald Trump has threatened Democrats with a “nuclear option” following the US government shutdown, saying senators should move to a vote by simple majority to force through new spending.

The US President tweeted on Sunday: “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!”

The so-called nuclear option means changing Senate voting rules to bypass a filibuster by the minority party.

Then-majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, was the first to use it in 2013 to overcome Republican resistance to staff appointments by Barack Obama. The voting threshold was lowered from 60 to 51 for executive and judicial appointments below the level of the Supreme Court.

In 2017, Republicans extended that measure to the Supreme Court in order to pass Mr Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch.

But Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, rejected Mr Trump’s exhortation out of hand. ”The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation,” a spokesman said.

The shutdown came into effect at midnight on Friday after senators failed to pass a new federal spending bill. Only essential services like law enforcement will function until the impasse is solved, and thousands of federal workers will go unpaid.

Democrats sought to attach protections for undocumented migrants brought to the US as children – the “dreamers” – to the spending bill but Republicans, including Mr Trump, opposed the move. Consequently, Democrats largely voted against the funding extension.

About 700,000 dreamers were previously protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme.

Mr Trump ended the Obama-era scheme and has said he wants to put its protections into law alongside other immigration measures, including his promised border wall.

Disaster relief provision and more money for opioid treatment were also among Democratic demands.

Politicians have traded blame for the shutdown in rare weekend proceedings in both the House and Senate.

“The American people cannot begin to understand why the Senate Democratic leader thinks the entire government should be shut down until he gets his way on illegal immigration”, said Mr McConnell, hours after the last-chance vote failed.

Democrats felt “very, very strongly about the issues”, said Chuck Schumer, adding he believed ”the American people are on our side”. The New York senator also said that negotiating with Mr Trump was like “like negotiating with Jell-O”.

Republicans began Saturday hopeful they might gain Democratic support for a shorter three-week version of the initial stop-gap spending bill, bringing the episode to a swift end.

But Democrats are insisting on an alternative lasting only a few days in the hope it would pressure their opponents into cutting a deal on immigration – and say they will block the three-week measure when the Senate votes on it by early Monday.

Additional reporting by agencies

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