Democrats yesterday agreed to support a temporary funding bill to end a
partial shutdown of the federal government, now in its third day, as a
key vote began in the Senate.
The Senate’s top Democrat Chuck Schumer told the chamber he had reached a deal with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — in exchange for a pledge to address Democrat concerns over hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country as children.
Democrats had refused to vote for the temporary budget extension unless they secured guarantees on the future of the so-called “Dreamers,” who will be vulnerable to deportation when the DACA programme protecting them expires in March.
“After several discussions, offers, counteroffers, the Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement,” Schumer said, moments before the key vote got underway.
“We will vote today to reopen the government to continue negotiating a global agreement with the commitment that if an agreement isn’t reached by February 8, the Senate will immediately proceed to consideration of legislation dealing with DACA,” he said.
The bill to keep government funded through February 8 requires 60 votes to advance in the 100-member Senate, meaning Republicans — who have a one-seat majority — need to lure several Democrats to their side.
If the bill clears the Senate, it will still have to go back to the House of Representatives, since the text has been modified since the lower chamber adopted it last Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of US federal employees were forced to stay home without pay yesterday after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on ending a government shutdown before the start of the work week.
Meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty reopened yesterday after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday vowed to use state funds to keep the landmark monument in operation.
Dozens of other national parks and monuments were partially or entirely closed after Congress failed to agree on a spending plan to keep the government running past a Friday midnight deadline.
In the hours leading up to the shutdown, the Trump administration worked on ways to keep hundreds of parks open without staff in an effort to avoid public anger, although it was unclear which ones would close.
“Not all parks are fully open but we are all working hard to make as many areas as accessible to the public as possible,” US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Twitter on Saturday.
The hit-or-miss closures forced tourists and residents alike to alter their plans. In lower Manhattan, where ferries normally embark for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, out-of-town visitors expressed frustration that the site was closed.
And San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman posted a photo of a “closed” sign outside Cabrillo National Monument on Twitter.
“I had planned to do some tide pool repeats to get some hill work in on my bicycle ride this morning,” she wrote, referring to a local bike route. “Change of plans.”
The National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group, estimated that one-third of the 417 national park sites were shuttered, “including places like the Statue of Liberty, presidential homes, and other historic and cultural sites primarily made up of buildings that can be locked.”
Yellowstone National Park, a 9,065sq km wilderness located mostly in Wyoming, remained open but offered limited services, with visitor centres closed and park rangers absent.
The association warned that the lack of staff could pose dangers to visitors.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a private company that manages lodges, concessions and restaurants in numerous national parks including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Rocky Mountain and Zion, said they will remain open during the shutdown.
In Washington, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo opened yesterday, using prior-year funds.
But in Philadelphia, visitors were turned away at the Liberty Bell.
During the last shutdown in 2013, a number of governors used state funds to keep parks open, including the Statue of Liberty, which at the time cost $61,600 per day to reopen.
At a news conference at the Statue of Liberty, Cuomo said the site generates tourism revenue, adding that the monument serves as a welcoming beacon to immigrants arriving in the United States.
“We don’t want to lose the income,” he said. “And symbolically, you can shut down the government, but you can’t shut down the Statue of Liberty.”
In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey committed state funds to keep the Grand Canyon open, including trash removal, snow ploughing and public restrooms, according to Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak.
“We recognise it’s a huge economic attractor and has a big impact not just on rural areas around the Grand Canyon but the state as a whole,” Ptak said, adding that the expected cost is around $100,000 per week.
But in South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard has said he would not take any action to keep the monument open during a shutdown.
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