By Arul Louis
New York– After Speaker Nancy Pelosi firmly slammed the door on Trump delivering his State of the Union address in the House chamber of Congress, President Donald Trump blinked and agreed to postpone the annual agenda-setting speech, a delay he had defiantly opposed.
His late night tweet on Wednesday acceding to her marked a turning point in the government shutdown that entered its 34th day on Thursday and offered a glimmer of hope that a deal on the budget could be worked out as the weight of the stress was beginning to show on federal operations, including law enforcement.
Trump’s back-down came amid reports that Democrats were working on a compromise that would increase the budget allocation for border control up to almost $5.7 billion, with the condition that it could not be spent on a wall or barrier along the Mexican border.
Trump had demanded that the budget include $5.7 billion for building the barrier to deter smuggling and illegal immigration, but the Democrats who control the House and crucial votes in the Republican-majority Senate refused to vote for it.
Without a budget as both sides hold firm, there is no money to run all but the most essential government services or pay the workers, both those still working and those temporarily laid off.
The border wall was Trump’s election promise and he has held fast to the demand for financing it, while the Democrats have opposed it for the same reason — to hurt his standing with his base.
Under their proposal, the increased border security allocation would be used to bring in new technologies and add personnel, while depriving him of the symbolism of the wall but meeting a big portion – if not all – of his budget demand.
Trump himself had offered some concessions – instead of a concrete wall, it will be a metal fence, he said.
Several news outlets reported that a new concessions that he may now offer was giving permanent residency to those who came in illegally as children to the US and were referred to as Dreamers, instead of a three-year reprieve he had offered on Saturday.
Estimates of Indians covered by Trump’s offer vary between 5,000 and 7,500.
As their feud heightened, Trump wrote to Pelosi on Wednesday to demand to speak from the House chamber to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday, but she replied that the House will not consider a resolution to invite him unless he ended the government shutdown.
Trump cannot deliver his annual address from the House chamber without an invitation or he would be sparking a constitutional crisis.
A petulant Trump told reporters: “The State of the Union speech has been cancelled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth.”
He could have spoken from another place in the Congress building as it was reported he was considering, but it would have lacked the pomp and show that Trump is fond of.
After hours of defiance, Trump finally said that Pelosi had invited him on January 3, but “she then changed her mind because of the shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative – I will do the address when the shutdown is over.”
He added that he looked forward to it “in the near future!”
Pelosi tweetd back: “Mr. President, I hope by saying ‘near future’, you mean you will support the House-passed package to #EndTheShutdown that the Senate will vote on tomorrow.”
The Senate was expected to vote on two competing resolutions on Thursday. One was a the Democratic resolution that Pelosi referred to, demanding a temporary reopening of the government till February 8 so they can negotiate a more permanent solution and the other was a competing Republican resolution approving the border wall funding and the competing
Neither resolution was likely to have enough votes to pass.
The State of the Union address is the equivalent of the Indian President’s address to the joint session of Parliament at the start of the session and has a ceremonial air that Trump is fond of.
Earlier in retaliation, Trump had banned Pelosi from using military planes to visit US troops in Afghanistan.
The effects of the shutdown were beginning to show. About 800,000 employees will be missing their second fortnightly paycheck on Friday and were facing financial hardships.
Thousands of government employees held a protest outside the Senate offices by holding up empty paper plates, signifying that they were unable to feed their families.
Admiral Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, took the bold step of tweeting a video message that it was “unacceptable for his personnel to rely on charity without their paychecks”.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association issued a report detailing how the shutdown was undermining the nation’s security as the agency was running out of funds for its operations. “The fear is our enemies know they can run freely,” an officer was quoted in the report.
Trump has been portraying Pelosi as a hostage of the radical left in the party, some of whom like Indian-American Representative Pramila Jayapal want to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that acts against smugglers and illegal immigrants within the US.
“They’ve become radicalized,” he said on Wednesday.
But Trump has his own set of extremists in his base that he has to contend with and they have already voiced opposition to his offers on extending temporary legal status to the two categories of illegal immigrants.
They will oppose any compromise without the wall. They will oppose any compromise without the wall, just as the Democrats will oppose increased border security funding.
Meanwhile, he moderates on both sides are becoming uneasy with the prolonged shutdown.
Some Democrats who won the November elections from traditionally Republican constituencies that backed Trump fear being cast as radicals, while Republican moderates were worried about the rising public disapproval rate for Trump’s handling of the crisis in many opinion polls. (IANS)