'Progress' but no deal yet to avoid US govt shutdown

Friday, January 19, 2018

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — President Donald Trump and the Senate's top Democrat on Friday both touted "progress" in 11th hour talks on breaking an impasse over spending, raising hopes that a US government shutdown could be averted.

With a midnight deadline looming to reach a short-term deal to keep the federal government running at full capacity, both Trump and Senator Chuck Schumer struck an optimistic tone.

"Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval," Trump tweeted, saying they were "working on solutions" with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"Making progress - four week extension would be best!" Trump added.

But Schumer admitted that a "good number of disagreements" remain between the two sides, despite what he described as a "long and detailed meeting," at which they discussed "all of the major outstanding issues."

"The discussions will continue," the New York Democrat told reporters.

The president shelved plans to fly to Florida to celebrate the first anniversary of his inauguration at his Mar-a-Lago estate -- which falls on Saturday -- to remain in Washington to ride out the storm, and the possible late-night Senate votes.

"He's not leaving until this is finished," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters.

"There's a really good chance it gets fixed" before government offices open on Monday, Mulvaney added.

- 'Shutdown coming?' -
Trump seemed to revel in the high-stakes brinksmanship unfolding in Washington, with Senate passage of a government funding extension that was pushed through the House of Representatives on Thursday up in the air.

"Shutdown coming?" he tweeted to begin the day Friday. White House officials said he made several calls to Democrats to try to win votes before his talks with Schumer.

"Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate - but they want illegal immigration and weak borders," Trump said on Twitter.

Republicans, who have a tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate, need as many as a dozen Democratic crossover votes to reach the 60 votes required for passage.

Democrats, however, appeared determined to block the measure, insisting on a deal that would protect from deportation so-called "Dreamers" -- the 700,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The House measure, which would extend federal funding until February 16, reauthorizes for six years a health insurance program for poor children -- a long-time Democratic objective -- but not the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that affects Dreamers.

White House officials insisted there was no urgency to fix DACA, which expires March 5.

"This is purely an attempt by the Senate Democrats led by Schumer -- why we call it the 'Schumer shutdown' -- to try and get a shutdown the president gets blamed for," Mulvaney said.

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