Washington: The partial government shutdown is now the longest in history, as Saturday marks day 22. The previous record was 21 days, set in the winter of 1995-’96 when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich were at odds over budget cuts.
Congress went home for the weekend, as some 800,000 federal workers are on furlough, and many have now gone without their first paycheck. Mortgages are held up, security personnel at airports are strained, Coast Guard families line up at a food pantry, and a large majority of the country says they feel the shutdown is “embarrassing.”
President Trump and Democrats have not been negotiating since the president abruptly walked out of a meeting on Wednesday, but on Friday he held off on declaring a national emergency as an end-run around Congress. Still, the White House is looking for money it could shift around to fund wall construction under an emergency declaration.
Meanwhile, President Trump has calmed speculation that he is about to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and get the money he needs. His proposed border wall was a key election pledge.
He described an emergency declaration as an “easy way out” and said he would prefer Congress to resolve the problem.
But he added: “If they can’t do it… I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right.”
Correspondents say Democrats would mount an immediate legal challenge if Mr Trump made such a move.
A food bank in Washington DC is arranging five pop-up markets on Saturday for unpaid federal workers.
Radha Muthiah, head of Capital Area Food Bank, said dozens of volunteers were working to pack bags of food for affected staff.
Meanwhile, the classified advertising website Craigslist has been inundated with listings from government employees trying to sell their possessions.
Items ranging from beds to old toys have been listed as “government shutdown specials”.
“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” one advert for a child’s rocking chair reads. “We need money to pay bills.”
Of the 800,000 federal employees going unpaid, about 350,000 are furloughed – a kind of temporary lay-off – while the rest are continuing to work.
Thousands have reportedly applied for unemployment benefits amid the financial uncertainty.
One major airport, Miami International, will close an entire terminal this weekend because of a shortage of security agents caused by the shutdown.
The agents are “essential” federal workers and expected to work – despite not being paid until the shutdown ends.
Instead many agents are calling in sick in protest at the situation, the Miami Herald reports.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on Friday to ensure all government workers receive retroactive pay after the shutdown ends. The president is expected to sign the legislation.
But that may be small consolation to those federal employees currently in dire straits, with no end in sight to the impasse.
At a roundtable discussion about border security on Friday with state and local leaders, Mr Trump again demanded that Democrats approve funding for a wall or steel barrier.
However, the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives said the ball was in Mr Trump’s court.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters: “When the president acts, we will respond to whatever he does.”
According to the Associated Press, senior White House aide Jared Kushner – Mr Trump’s son-in-law – is among those who have cautioned the president against declaring a national emergency.
US media report the White House is considering diverting some of the $13.9bn allocated last year by Congress for disaster relief in such areas as Puerto Rico, Texas and California to pay for the wall.
But Republican congressman Mark Meadows, who is close to the president, said that option was not under serious consideration.