Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — As a partial US government shutdown entered its 19th day, Democrats on Wednesday were set to test Republicans’ resolve in backing President Donald Trump’s drive to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which has sparked an impasse over agency funding.

House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, who took control of the chamber last week, plan to advance a bill to immediately reopen the treasury department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been in partial shutdown mode since December 22.

Democrats are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the treasury’s Internal Revenue Service — at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans — and voting to keep it partially shuttered.

In a countermove, the Trump administration said on Tuesday that even without a new shot of funding, the Internal Revenue Service would somehow make sure those refund cheques get sent.

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Trump was still considering a declaration of a national emergency to circumvent Congress and redirect government funds towards the wall.

The Republican president’s insistence on a massive barrier on the border has dominated the Washington debate and sparked a political blame game as both Trump and Democrats remained dug in.

In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” referring to murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, responding to Trump, said he and the president both wanted stronger border security but disagreed over the most effective approach.

“Most presidents have used [White House] Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” Schumer said.

Later this week, Pelosi will force votes that one by one provide the money to operate departments ranging from homeland security and justice to state, agriculture, commerce and labour.

By using a Democratic majority to ram those bills through the House, Pelosi is hoping enough Senate Republicans back her up and abandon Trump’s wall gambit.

The political maneuvering comes amid a rising public backlash over the suspension of some government activities that has resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Other “essential” employees are being required to report to work, but without pay for the time being.

With tempers running high over Trump’s demand for $5.7bn  just for 2019 to fund wall construction, there are doubts Pelosi’s plan will succeed in forcing the Senate to act.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has not budged from his hard line of refusing to bring up any government funding bill that does not have Trump’s backing even as a few moderate members of his caucus have called for an end to the standoff.

The funding fight stems from the inability of Congress to complete work by a September 30 2018, deadline on funding all government agencies. It did, however, appropriate money for about 75%  of the government by that deadline — mainly military and health-related programmes.

Reuters