Nine government departments and a slew of agencies were closed for 35 days. Picture: Jacquelyn Martin
Nine government departments and a slew of agencies were closed for 35 days. Picture: Jacquelyn Martin

‘He looks pathetic’: Trump’s humiliation after wall backdown

Donald Trump has reached a deal with Democrats to temporarily reopen the US government after a record 35 days of shutdown.

"I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," he told the nation from the White House Rose Garden just after 2pm Friday local time (6am Saturday AEDT).

"In a short while, I will sign a bill to open our government for three weeks, until February 15."

He said negotiations over border security would continue, warning that he could shut the government down again or use his "very powerful alternative" of declaring a national emergency if Congress does not provide funding for his border wall.

Donald Trump has reached a deal to temporarily reopen the US government after a record 35 days of shutdown. Picture: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Donald Trump has reached a deal to temporarily reopen the US government after a record 35 days of shutdown. Picture: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

"If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government either shuts down on February 15th again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency," he said.

He went on to reiterate his case for a $US5.7 billion US-Mexico border wall made of either concrete or steel.

Mr Trump also thanked the 800,000 federal workers who have been working without pay or on leave without pay, telling them: "You are very special people."

He said they would receive backpay "very quickly or as soon as possible". It is not clear when that may be.

There was a mixed reaction to the news on Friday, which brought relief but left many fearing more pain to come.

Angela Dixon, a 45-year-old federal prison teacher whose husband cannot work because of a heart condition, told news.com.au: "It's definitely a load off. However, we are preparing for a repeat.

"Hopefully everyone will get paid soon."

Meanwhile, political commentators piled on Mr Trump for caving in his negotiations with Democrats. The President had repeatedly insisted he would not accept any deal that did not include funding for a border wall.

Financial Times US editor Edward Luce called it possibly the "worst day yet" for Mr Trump, who had "caved" on the wall, was "owned" by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and had left "his brand in tatters with conservative fire-breathers".

One of those fire-breathers, outspoken wall supporter Ann Coulter, furiously labelled Mr Trump "the biggest wimp ever to serve as president".

Other reporters and pundits pointed out Mr Trump had ended up accepting a deal strikingly similar to one he rejected out of hand at the start of the shutdown, arguably making the whole ordeal a colossal waste of time.

Mr Trump's announcement came after the situation hit breaking point on Friday, with flights grounded at major international airports, stark warnings issued over safety and government employees set to miss their second pay cheque of the year.

Reporters at LaGuardia airport in New York said some Transport Security Administration workers were "extremely relieved" at the announcement while others were "sceptical they'll even get their backpay before the government shuts down again."

Mr Trump had maintained he would not approve funding bills to reopen the government unless they include $US5.7 billion for his wall while Democrats said they would not sign off on more than $US1.3 billion for border security, including fencing and surveillance.

On Thursday, two rival bills to reopen the government failed to pass the senate - one a Trump-backed proposal to extend protections for 700,000 undocumented young immigrants in return for his wall funding. The other, backed by Democrats, aimed to temporarily reopen the government without any border wall money as negotiations continue.

The record United States government shutdown is into its second month, with 800,00 workers going unpaid and services grinding to a halt. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
The record United States government shutdown is into its second month, with 800,00 workers going unpaid and services grinding to a halt. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The shutdown has been terrible for Mr Trump's popularity, with a Politico/Morning Consult poll this week showing 54 per cent of US voters blamed the President and Republicans, while 35 per cent blamed Democrats.

His overall approval rating sank to its lowest point in more than a year on Wednesday, with just 34 per cent of respondents saying they approved of the job he was doing as president in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

DEVASTATING SHUTDOWN EFFECTS

For some Americans, the shutdown had literally become a matter of life or death.

Ms Dixon's biggest fear was that her electricity would be turned off and her husband's heart would will fail. Willie, 58, has suffered numerous strokes and has a mechanical pump implanted in his chest to keep him alive. They were forced to lean on friends during the shutdown.

"That was the biggest concern, him on LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), we have to have electricity," Angela told news.com.au. "We're in Miami - rent is expensive. With him not having to work it's been just me.

"He's on 14 different medications. One of his medications increased this year, the price is about to go up, there are ambulance bills.

"The biggest story is him worried about everything going on - not eating, not sleeping. Things have slowed down now, he's doing better … eating, sleeping a lot. I don't know if something is wrong or he's just catching up."

Angela Dixon, a federal prison worker going without pay, is struggling to support her husband Willie, who cannot work because of congestive heart problems.
Angela Dixon, a federal prison worker going without pay, is struggling to support her husband Willie, who cannot work because of congestive heart problems.

Willie first went into hospital after he had a stroke almost two years ago. He spent four months in hospital and continued to suffer from seizures afterwards, returning to the ward every few weeks.

"We've been fortunate enough he hasn't been back in since November 2018 but he's still back and forth for weekly checking his numbers, seeing everything's fine," said Angela.

She has helped inmates gain high school certificates for almost 19 years, and has seen shutdowns before, but "never this long", she said.

"I don't think any of us expected it to go this long, this is the longest to date," she added. "Gas is an issue for a lot of co-workers who live far away.

"Different churches and businesses in the community, they're in the process of trying to get things organised.

"It's shown a different side of some cities as a whole. It seemed for a while we were becoming cold-hearted as a nation but with this happening, you can see people trying to reach out and lend a hand. Really understanding, trying to ease everyone's mind. We have to stick together and help each other out."

But there are limits to what local organisations can achieve with federal funding on hold and cashflow drying up - and despite the government reopening, the protracted shutdown is expected to have ongoing effects on struggling families and the economy.

Marilyn Chin, who works at the Department of Justice, says she feels ‘degraded’ by having to turn to food banks at 62.
Marilyn Chin, who works at the Department of Justice, says she feels ‘degraded’ by having to turn to food banks at 62.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has $US2 billion to distribute to Americans in need of assistance with accommodation, but the money has not been announced - leaving families with nowhere to go.

"There's a great need to increase capacity," Steve Berg, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told news.com.au. "If HUD hasn't announced funding, it's hard to get the community to contribute."

State and local government and non-profit organisations have been stuck in limbo, unable to promise help to the homeless. "They're very concerned because their funding's starting to run out," he said. "We've started to hear from a few that have run out of money."

The larger housing choice voucher program pays rent for about two million households, and only has enough for February. "If it drags on to March 1, there isn't going to be any money," says Steve. "That's a much bigger disaster.

"More people will become homeless and the system will be overwhelmed."

The suffering was thrown into stark relief after tone-deaf comments from Mr Trump's wealthy circle this week.

The President's daughter-in-law Lara Trump remarked that "a little bit of pain" for the unpaid federal employees was justified by the need for border security.

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said he "didn't quite understand" why families didn't take out bank loans rather than going to food banks.

CNN contributor Ana Navarro told them to "shut the hell up" if they couldn't empathise with the problems suffered by low-paid workers living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Marilyn Chin, a 62-year-old Department of Justice employee, was one of those federal workers and said it was "very upsetting" visiting food banks for plantain, oatmeal, bread and carrots while still going to work each day.

"They're there to help but at same time, I just feel to me it's just degrading," she told news.com.au. "I never knew the pantry existed in my neighbourhood.

"It really hit me last Friday, I went to supermarket - I've never been in any unemployment line or food bank - it hit me I have to look what to buy, can I afford this, can I afford that? I'm an essential worker, I can't apply for food stamps, unemployment or nothing."

Her 67-year-old husband Aubrey has just retired, but his pension will take three to four months to arrive. Marilyn feared they would not able to pay bills or rent and could damage her credit rating.

She contacted her landlord and was told that if she received an eviction notice, she should bring it in. "I said, I want better than that, so she put it on my file.

"I don't even want to think about it, I really don't."

Marilyn, originally from Guyana, said she blamed Mr Trump, asking why he had not resolved his border security concerns when Republicans had control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"If he wanted his wall, he could have got his wall then. Now the House is controlled by Democrats.

"I'm an immigrant. He shouldn't discriminate against immigrants, they come here for a better life."

The devastating shutdown effects have become ever more frightening with homeless workers sleeping in their cars, taking on second jobs and considering selling their possessions. Food banks increased their opening hours but some told news.com.au they feared being swamped.

Planes were grounded at international airports in New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia on Friday because of a shortage of air-traffic controllers. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote to Mr Trump demanding he reopen the government immediately because it was putting travellers at risk.

As Pelosi called on Mr Trump to "stop endangering the safety, security and wellbeing of our nation. Re-open government now!"

Major airlines warned the situation was at a "tipping point."

Larry Hirsch, from the New York branch of the HUD, told news.com.au housing vouchers needed to be reviewed and constantly renewed - but furloughed staff (on leave without pay) could not access email and voicemail to find out who was in trouble.

He said the team was trying to get gift cards to people who were "having to choose between rent and food" and urged Mr Trump to sign a bill reopening vital departments.

"It's a very simple solution," he said. "My job and the job of thousands of others have nothing to do with border security or the wall.

"It's frustrating it's got to this point.

"We are the true victims of this shutdown, being held hostage to negotiations on the wall."


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