American Government Shuts Down Over Border Wall Controversy

We are back once again with “Damnit Donald”, chronicling the absurdities and scrapes which have characterized every day of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Shutdown

The US government has been shut down since December 22; currently in its fifth week, this is the longest shutdown in American history. 800,000 federal workers have been unpaid since then, leading to 1500 appeals on the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe to finance basic living expenses and necessities. Of these workers, 380,000 are furloughed, meaning they are on unpaid leave. The remainder are working without pay.

President Trump is demanding $5.7 billion in funding for his wall, which he says is needed to end the security crisis on the southern border. Opposition Democrats refuse, calling it a waste of taxpayer money. Since Congress was unable to pass the budget, the government is in shutdown.

Every year, federal government agencies submit requests for funding which Congress has to pass, after which the President signs the budget legislation for the next fiscal year. This should be finalized by October 1. If they are unable to pass the budget due to impassable differences, there are two options: a continuing resolution can be reached, which is a temporary agreement based on the previous year’s requests. Alternatively, the government shuts down, in which case all non-essential discretionary functions are stopped until the budget can be passed.

Essential services continue, with employees forced to work without pay. These are mostly related to public safety, such as border protection, hospital care, air traffic control, law enforcement, and power grid maintenance. Nonessential services are stopped, and workers are on temporary furlough. These include food inspections, access to national parks, and tax refunds.

The US Department of Justice is also affected: many lawyers and judges are furloughed, while others are working without pay. In general, criminal investigations continue, while federal civil cases and immigration cases are suspended.

The President’s pay cheque is not affected, and neither is Congress’s, although in this case, the Congress funding bill has already been approved. Other agencies do not get annual funding, and hence are unaffected; these include social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

To simplify the situation, imagine Donald Trump throwing a tantrum. He demands $5.7 billion, Mommy says no, he yells, “Fine! I’ll do things my way!”

At this point, there are several ways the situation could end: Trump gives in, the Democrats give in, Trump makes a deal with Congress, or Trump declares a national emergency. In the final scenario, Trump could use his presidential power to bypass Congress. This is an unlikely course of action because it would draw a lot of political and legal backlash. In the past, Republicans have opposed the idea of Democrats using this strategy to legislate gun control, or another controversial issue; hence, they would be concerned if Trump were to use this power.

It should have been anticipated that the President’s announcement on Saturday, January 19, would offer no relief. He suggested two compromises to break the “logjam” over the shutdown: extended protection for Dreamers for another three years, allowing them to get work permits, and extended visas for TPS (Temporary Protection Status) holders for three years. In return, of course, he still wants funding for the wall.

The Democrats rejected his proposal even before he made the speech. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “Unfortunately, initial reports make clear that his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”

Currently, over 300,000 people from countries affected by war or disasters are allowed to live and work in the US under TPS. Around 800,000 Dreamers – people who, as children, illegally entered the US with their parents – are enrolled in DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA protects them from deportation and allows to work, but not to get citizenship. Trump has been attempting to rescind this program.

Last week, Trump invented a solution he believed to be much more brilliant than attempting to throw the Democrats a bone: fast food. He hosted the Clemson University football at the White House to celebrate their victory in the national college playoffs, feeding them piles of food from Wendy’s and McDonald’s: “we have pizzas, we have 300 hamburgers, many, many French fries, all of our favourite foods.” Trump paid for the feast out of his own pocket – let’s remember, while government employees are struggling to pay rent – and justifying this gesture as such: “The reason we did this is because of the shutdown. We want to make sure that everything is right, so we sent out, we got this.” Of course, the correlation between passing the budget and eating a lot of calories has yet to be resolved.

The whole scene is overwhelmingly and disgustingly Trumpian.

How to get impeached

Buzzfeed published an article that President Trump instructed his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Trump’s prior plans to build a hotel in Moscow. Cohen was convicted over the case last month.

Trump retaliated, saying that Cohen had lied to “reduce his jail time”.

Office of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller also called the report inaccurate, although it did not specify which parts: “Buzzfeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Had there been truth to the report, this would be an impeachable offense; persuading a person to commit perjury constitutes obstruction of justice. While there have been murmurings in the past about obstruction of justice, hard evidence would be needed. Buzzfeed thought, incorrectly as it seems, that this was the evidence needed.

But have hope! There is another situation of questionable legality. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the committee in charge of Trump’s inauguration is under federal criminal investigation. This committee raised $107 million in donations, of which about $14 million came from donors who worked for securities and investment companies, and $10 million from people with real-estate industry connections. The investigation is looking into how the money was spent, and what the contributors stood to gain.

A win for women

On the bright side, amid financial worries and fast food feasts last week, women’s rights had a win.

The Trump administration’s new birth control plan, which was supposed to come into effect nationwide last Monday, was blocked by US federal judge Wendy Beetlestone of Philadelphia. The new plan would allow employers and insurers to decline providing birth control if it violates their “religious beliefs” or “moral convictions”. She granted the injunction requested by Attorneys General in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which stated that this new rule would make it harder for many women to get free birth control and would be an undue burden on individual states.

A similar ruling was passed on Sunday, January 13. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a coalition of fourteen Attorneys General, getting a preliminary injunction to block the new plan. She said afterwards: “The law couldn’t be clearer – employers have no business interfering in women’s healthcare decisions. Today’s court ruling stops another attempt by the Trump Administration to trample on women’s access to basic reproductive care. It’s 2019, yet the Trump Administration is still trying to roll back women’s rights. Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure women have access to the reproductive healthcare they are guaranteed under the law.”

Apparently, this is the bright side: women are not losing the rights that they have worked so hard to gain. This is 2019, right?

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