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Longest government shutdown 'can be solved in 15 minutes', says Trump

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he visits the banks of the Rio Grande River with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents during the president's visit to the U.S. - Mexico border in Mission
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he visits the banks of the Rio Grande River with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents during the president's visit to the U.S. - Mexico border in Mission ©REUTERS/Leah Millis

As the partial US government shutdown entered a record 22nd day Saturday, President Donald Trump remained steadfast in his demand for $5.7 billion to build a Mexico border wall.

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President Trump issued a series of tweets Saturday in an effort to defend his stance and goad Democrats to return to Washington.

But most lawmakers left town on Friday and will not return before Monday, leaving little chance for any solution to the stalemate before then

Promised Mexico border wall at the heart of shutdown.

Some 800, 000 government employees are going without pay as the standoff between Trump and the House-majority of Democrats continues.

President Donald Trump has again threatened to declare a national emergency along the border with Mexico as he seeks funding for a wall he says will keep out dangerous immigrants.

Opposition Democrats are refusing to approve $5.7 billion needed for the wall. They say that most illegal immigrants do not commit serious crimes and that Trump is mainly promoting the project to satisfy his right-wing base.

Rules on US government shutdowns were first defined in the 1884 Anti-Deficiency Act. The act was created to prevent “coercive deficiencies” that were used by government agencies to get more money.

Many agencies, notably the army, but also the postal service and others, would spend their budget long before the end of a fiscal year, hoping that the government would feel morally obliged to fill in the gap.

But despite of the law, and over a period of decades, government agencies continued to run substantial budget deficits without consequences, due to lax control over the budget. There were seven occasions of massive overspending between 1950 and 1980.

Under President Carter, agency overspending exploded forcing the president to act. He asked US Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti to write an “opinion” that would give teeth to the 1884 Anti-Deficiency Act.

In a five-page letter, Civiletti concluded that agencies “cannot lawfully be funded” if they run a deficit, “no exceptions on this rule under current law.” He also indicated that the Department of Justice has to take actions to enforce the “criminal provisions” in the Anti-deficiency Act in case of violations.

As a direct result, critics say that this opened the floodgates for government employees being “furloughed” (from the Dutch “verlof” – leave of absence) forced to take an unpaid break with a promise that they may come back to work when their agency starts functioning again.

On May 1, 1980, the Federal Trade Commission with the first government agency that was forced to furlough its employees as a result of the Civiletti opinion. Since then, 15 cases of agency overspending resulted in ten cases of government employees being suspended without pay.

The first ever agency to be hit by furloughs was the Federal Trade Commission, that shut down for one day on May 1, 1980, according to a Washington Post article of that day causing “confusion” among its 1100 staff members who felt “degraded.”

Until today, the record-holder for the longest government shutdown was the Clinton administration with 21 days, when President and Congress disagreed over the way the budget was calculated.

Government shutdowns are often used by the President or Congress in case of conflicts that have nothing to do with the budget per se. Unsurprisingly, the current government shutdown took place after the Democrats gained a majority and with that the power to vote over the budget. They used it to deny US President Donald Trumps’ request for $5 billion to build a wall at the US-Mexican border. Congress proposed a lower amount. Trump refused to sign the budget. So nobody gets money and the government has to shut down.

Federal employees can’t do much: according to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, they are legally prohibited from striking. That law was introduced to prevent potentially economy-crippling strikes in the public sector, but may not have foreseen a scenario where the government would demand its employees to work without paying.

At the end of December, the Department of Homeland Security sent around sample letters to agencies such as the US Coastguard to their employees to be used if they need to ask creditors to pay later. "... some of our employees may have difficulty in timely meeting their financial obligations,” the letter reads.

“We appreciate your organization's understanding and flexibility toward DHS employees until this situation is resolved ... we extend our thanks for your patience and compassion towards our employees during this time ...”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Trump, accompanied by unpaid Secret Service agents, visited the border at McAllen, Texas. At a border patrol station he had a roundtable discussion on immigration and border security and got a briefing.

However, he said,he had doubts that his appearance and remarks would change any minds as he seeks money for the wall that’s been his signature promise since his presidential campaign.

Sitting between border patrol officers, local officials and military representatives, Trump insisted that he was “winning” the shutdown fight.

McAllen is located in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest part of the border for illegal border crossings.

Nearby, hundreds of protesters were chanting and waving signs opposing a border wall next to the South Texas airport where Trump was set to arrive.

Across the street, a smaller group of protesters shouted back, chanting, “Build that wall!”

And in Washington, federal workers denounced Trump at a rally with congressional Democrats, demanding he reopen the government so they can get back to work and receive their paychecks.

National emergency

Speaking to Fox News in an interview broadcast Thursday evening, Trump reiterated he had "the absolute right to declare a national emergency."

But when asked when it would take place, he answered that he would "see what happens" over the coming days.

Analysts say the declaration would likely be challenged as a case of presidential overreach, which means the wall could still face being blocked.

National emergencies were invoked five times since the end of World War 2: during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979; the US embargo against Nicaragua in 1985; the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1998; the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Towers, and during an outbreak of the swine flu under President Obama in 2009.

The extreme measure would give Trump political cover with his base by showing he'd done what he could to build the wall.

At that point, Trump could end the shutdown and declare a win.

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