Washington DC (AP) — The U.S federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunction.
Last-minute negotiations crumbled as Senate Democrats blocked a four-week stopgap extension in a late-night vote, causing the fourth government shutdown in a quarter century. Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans and Democrats were already moving toward a next step, trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.
Since the shutdown began at the start of a weekend, many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans. But any damage could build quickly if the closure is prolonged. And it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for the president and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.
Social Security and most other safety net programs are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.
After hours of closed-door meetings and phone calls, the Senate scheduled its late-night vote on a House-passed plan. It gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster. A handful of red-state Democrats crossed the aisle to support the measure, rather than take a politically risky vote. Four Republicans voted in opposition.
In an unusual move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed the roll call to exceed 90 minutes — instead of the usual 20 or so — and run past midnight, seemingly accommodating the numerous discussions among leaders and other lawmakers. Still as midnight passed and the calendar turned, there was no obvious off-ramp to the political stalemate.
Even before the vote, Trump was pessimistic, tweeting that Democrats actually wanted the shutdown “to help diminish the success” of the tax bill he and fellow Republicans pushed through last month. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later termed the Democrats “obstructionist losers.”