The United States has broken their national record for the longest government shutdown in history, lasting over six weeks since the 22nd December 2018, with no end to the crisis seeming imminent. The polarisation of the Democrats and the Republicans has reached a climax as the opposing sides of the house are unwilling to cede their position regarding funding for Trump’s envisioned border wall, a cornerstone of his anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout his 2016 campaign. The consistently repeated claim that ‘Mexico will pay for the wall’ has been fruitless, as the President is now demanding $5.7 billion in funding which the Democrats have outright refused.
In a system unique to the United States, if a new government spending bill cannot be negotiated after the expiration of the prior one, the government will shut down until budgeting can be agreed upon. This is a process which happens during many presidencies (it has occurred 20 times since 1976), yet the duration of the current shutdown is wholly unprecedented. Sectors deemed non-essential will close, with workers either being furloughed (given a leave of absence) or continuing to work without pay, while essential programmes such as the military can continue to operate.
The shutdown was triggered after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a new bill. With Democrats holding the majority in the House of Representatives after the blue wave of the 2018 midterms, the US government has reached a stalemate. As long as the President refuses to compromise with the Democrats and their anti-wall stance, no bill can be passed. The current situation could be compared to a game of chicken – each side has become entrenched in their position and is waiting for the other to back down.
However, the government is obviously more complex than this. Democrats have passed a bill to open up the government again without wall funding, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked this as he will not operate independently of Trump. Instead, in a politically self-interested move, he has negated his responsibilities in order to not incur criticism from pro-wall Republicans. In recent days, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has brought the spotlight upon McConnell’s absence, starting a Twitter trend of #WheresMitch to highlight his refusal to engage in discussion about the pressing need to reopen the government.
The crux of the matter is the 800,000 government employees who are currently in a state of limbo, either on unpaid leave or being forced to work without pay. Union regulations prevent these employees from striking, so ultimately they are at the mercy of Congress and the President. Nine departments are currently shut down, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice and Department of Interior. Bridget Broussard-Guidry, a NASA employee who is included in the 95% of furloughed NASA workers, has implored the government to not “hold us hostage for your political promise”.
In a system unique to the United States, if a new government spending bill cannot be negotiated after the expiration of the prior one, the government will shut down until budgeting can be agreed upon.
Airports have seen excessive queues due to reduced TSA staff, with unauthorised absences increasing amongst those who have still been ordered to work. The environment is also suffering at the hands of the government; national parks have remained open without working staff, hugely increasing the risk of danger to visitors and the landscape. Without anyone to protect historic sites or clear trash, immeasurable damage could be inflicted upon unique ecosystems across the country.
Pew Research Centre has conducted a poll which reveals that 58% of Americans oppose Trump’s wall, while 40% are in favour of the proposal. Only 34% of the public believe a wall would significantly reduce illegal immigration, and out of this proportion, 69% identify as Republicans while only 7% are Democrats. The partisan divide is remarkably evident, as the correlation between pro-wall and pro-Trump is unmistakable. However, regardless of political affiliation, the government shutdown is not being received well by the public – a PBS poll has found that 70% of Americans believe shutting down the government in order to force an agreement has been a bad strategy, with only 22% believing it to be good.
Trump has flirted with the idea of declaring a National Emergency in order to achieve the funding he is demanding, as a state of National Emergency allows the President to reallocate money in order to resolve a crisis. Previously, this has been used in matters regarding foreign policy and war, and Democrats would unquestionably challenge the legality of this.
The current situation could be compared to a game of chicken – each side has become entrenched in their position and is waiting for the other to back down
Trump’s declaration that illegal immigration at the border is a humanitarian crisis which threatens the safety of Americans is particularly hypocritical, as the Trump administration previously spearheaded the separation of migrant families and internment of children in detention camps at the border. The racism which underpins the fear of migrants and the stereotypes of them as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers is indisputable, and Democrats are unlikely to support anything which advocates such prejudiced and divisive opinions, particularly in the run up to the 2020 elections.
However, Trump is also unlikely to back down, as failure to deliver one of his key promises would further harm his credentials for re-election. There really is no clear way in which the shutdown could end, yet for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of families currently living without a paycheck, it becomes more imperative by the day that the government reaches a resolution.