The US woke on Saturday to the 15th day of a partial government shutdownthat Donald Trump said could go on for months or years, if he is not given funding for a wall on the Mexican border. New talks were due but as the nation digested the president’s rambling, contradictory and combative remarks at a White House press conference on Friday, potentially devastating effects of the shutdown were coming into focus.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides dietary assistance to 38 million low-income Americans and is colloquially known as food stamps, will soon face cuts and will run out of funds in March. Tax refunds totalling billions of dollars and due in April to millions may be delayed. And, CNN reported, Transportation Security Agents vital to the operation of major airports are beginning to call out sick, after being forced to work without pay.
Hydrick Thomas, the president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN of the callouts by “hundreds” of officers: “This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect.”
Trump named Vice-President Mike Pence, homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and senior adviser Jared Kushner as his representatives at meetings with Democrats, starting at 11am on Saturday.
He also returned to Twitter. Claiming “great support … from all sides for Border Security”, the president made a jab at familiar media targets when he wrote: “Teams negotiating this weekend! Washington Post and NBC reporting of events, including Fake sources, has been very inaccurate (to put it mildly)!”
Unlike House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and minority whip Steve Scalise, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was not present at the Friday press conference. He has sought to leave Democrats and the president to fight it out, thereby to avoid political damage. Trump shrugged off McConnell’s absence but minority leader Chuck Schumer said: “The president needs an intervention, and Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to build the wall, which he says is necessary to stop undocumented migration and the flow of drugs into the US, and to stop terrorists entering the country.
The last claim is as frequently questioned by media factcheckers as it is trotted out by Trump and his allies. On Friday, asked to comment on the claim made by her boss as she stood with him in the White House Rose Garden, Nielsen said more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” had been stopped at the south-western border in an unspecified period. It was swiftly pointed out that nearly all people crossing the border who are not from western hemisphere countries are thus classified.