Wary of shutdown, Trump inches toward support for funding deal

U.S. President Donald Trump listens next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday edged toward backing a deal in Congress on government funding that would not meet his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall on the Mexican border but would avert a partial government shutdown.

Trump, widely blamed for a five-week shutdown that ended in January, said he did not want to see federal agencies close again because of fighting over funds for the wall, one of his signature campaign promises in the 2016 election.

The Republican president did not commit himself to backing the government funding agreement struck between Democratic and Republican lawmakers this week. But two sources and a Republican senator close to the White House said he would likely sign off on it.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing. I think a point was made with the last shutdown,” Trump told reporters. “People realized how bad the border is, how unsafe the border is, and I think a lot of good points were made.”

Trump said he would hold off on a decision until he sees actual legislation about the issue. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was “inclined to take the deal and move on.”

Graham told reporters that Trump would then look elsewhere to find more money to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and was “very inclined” to declare a national emergency to secure the funds.

With a Friday night deadline looming before a shutdown, there is little time for the White House and the political parties in Congress to agree on funding.

Funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.

LESS MONEY

The congressional agreement reached on Monday falls far short of giving Trump all the money he wants to help build the wall. Instead, congressional sources say, it includes $1.37 billion for new barriers – about the same as last year – along 55 miles (90 km) of the border.

Details of the legislation were still being written, but the full bill could be made public as early as Wednesday evening, according to lawmakers and congressional aides.

The accord must be passed by the House of Representatives, dominated by Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Senate, then signed by Trump by midnight on Friday to prevent a shutdown.

The measure’s fate in the House was far from certain given the risk that some conservatives and liberals will oppose the compromise for different reasons.

Like Trump, congressional Republicans have little appetite for a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown in December and January – the longest in U.S. history – which closed about a quarter of federal agencies and left some 800,000 federal workers without pay.

“It’s time to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday, in reference to voting on the compromise.

Democrats in the House are aiming to schedule a vote on Thursday evening, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters. If passed, it would then go to the Senate.

OTHER OPTIONS

A White House spokeswoman, Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN that lawyers were reviewing the administration’s options should Congress not provide Trump’s demanded money for the wall.

The Washington Post, citing a White House official, said Trump was likely to explore using his executive power to reallocate other federal funds for barrier projects along the southern border. CNN, citing the White House, also said Trump was weighing the use of an executive order, among other options.

Trump previously threatened to declare a “national emergency” if Congress did not provide money specifically for the wall – a move that would almost certainly draw opposition in Congress and in the courts.

“We think the president would be on very weak legal ground to proceed,” said Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

Speaking to sheriffs and police chiefs of major cities, Trump said later on Wednesday that he was determined to “fully and completely” secure the U.S. border, including providing more law enforcement, closing legal loopholes and finishing the border wall.

Trump has come in for criticism from the right for wavering on support for the wall, which the administration says will cut illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

“Trump talks a good game on the border wall, but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it,” right-wing commentator Ann Coulter tweeted on Tuesday.

Trump abandoned a planned compromise on funding for the wall in December after similar criticism.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

U.S. border security talks progressing: negotiators

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) arrives for a meeting with U.S. House-Senate conferees to receive a closed briefing from U.S. Border Patrol career professionals, who discuss "the challenges they face protecting the U.S.-Mexico border" at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers negotiating a deal with President Donald Trump on border security funding on Thursday said progress was being made, with Democratic Senator Jon Tester raising the possibility of a successful conclusion to talks as soon as Friday.

Speaking to reporters, Tester said it was “entirely possible we could have a deal in a timely manner, which could be tomorrow but certainly by the weekend.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, who met earlier on Thursday at the White House with Trump, told reporters the 17 Senate and House of Representatives negotiators were on “a positive trajectory”.

Shelby, a Republican, would not provide any details on a possible deal but said the situation had improved now that there was a better understanding of what Trump would support.

Trump spoke to reporters in the White House Oval Office and when asked about a potential compromise, said, “There could be.”

The lawmakers are up against a Feb. 15 deadline for ending an impasse over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that he says is needed to deal with a crisis of illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants.

Democrats have long said that a border wall would be ineffective and instead have fought for other means for improving security on the southern border.

Funding for several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, will expire on Feb. 15. If no border security deal is reached by then, these agencies could go back into the partial shutdown mode that plagued them for 35 days beginning last Dec. 22.

That episode ended when Trump and Congress agreed to temporary funding to give more time to talk about border security.

Negotiators have discussed a mix of tools, such as more law enforcement agents, procuring more high-tech devices to repel illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants from entering the United States and additional physical barriers.

But Trump has continued to insist on a wall, although it was unclear what his definition of that was. There already are more than 600 miles of vehicular and pedestrian barriers along the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) border.

Meanwhile, some liberal House Democrats and immigration advocacy groups gathered outside the Capitol to demand funding cuts to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is in charge of enforcing immigration law in the interior of the country, including deporting undocumented immigrants.

“An agency like ICE, which repeatedly and systematically violates human rights, does not deserve a dime,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

She said Trump was seeking billions of dollars to “continue to militarize and weaponize a force that has zero accountability.”

While immigrant groups and some Democrats have criticized ICE’s tactics as heavy-handed, Trump has praised the agency’s work in protecting the United States from what he calls dangerous criminals.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S. weekly jobless claims retreat from one-and-a-half-year high

Job seekers and recruiters gather at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped from near a 1-1/2-year high last week, but the decline was less than expected, suggesting some moderation in the pace of job growth.

Still, the Labor Department’s report on Thursday continued to point to strong job market conditions, which should underpin the economy amid rising headwinds, including a fading fiscal stimulus boost and a trade war between Washington and Beijing, as well as slowing growth in China and Europe.

The Federal Reserve last week kept interest rates steady but said it would be patient in lifting borrowing costs further this year in a nod to growing uncertainty over the economy’s outlook. The U.S. central bank removed language from its December policy statement that risks to the outlook were “roughly balanced.”

“Labor market conditions remain quite positive, good news for workers, for the consumer sector and the economy more broadly,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits tumbled 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended Feb. 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The drop partially unwound the prior week’s jump, which lifted claims to 253,000, the highest reading since September 2017.

Claims that week were boosted by layoffs in the service industry in California, most likely striking teachers in Los Angeles.

A 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government as well as difficulties adjusting the data around moving holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. day, which occurred later this year than in recent years, also probably contributed to the spike in filings.

The longest shutdown in history likely forced workers employed by government contractors to file claims for unemployment benefits.

The shutdown ended on Jan. 25 after President Donald Trump and Congress agreed to temporary government funding, without money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 221,000 in the latest week.

U.S. stocks were trading lower on renewed fears of a global slowdown after the European Union cut its economic growth forecasts and White House adviser Larry Kudlow warned there was still a sizable distance to go on U.S.-China trade talks. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury prices rose.

MOMENTUM SLOWING

The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 4,500 to 224,750 last week. Claims by federal government workers, which are filed separately and with a one-week lag fell 8,070 to 6,669 in the week ended Jan. 26.

“Claims remain important to watch in the weeks ahead,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “The data are suggesting at least some slowing in employment growth.”

The government reported last Friday that non-farm payrolls increased by 304,000 jobs in January, the largest gain since February 2018. Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 42,000 to 1.74 million for the week ended Jan. 26.

These so-called continuing claims had raced to a nine-month high in the prior week. The four-week moving average of continuing claims rose 4,250 to 1.74 million.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Trump announces deal with lawmakers to end government shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. lawmakers for three weeks in stop-gap funding that would end a partial U.S. government shutdown now in its 35th day, with a senior Democratic aide saying money the president demanded for a border wall is not included.

The president had previously insisted on the inclusion of $5.7 billion to help pay for a wall along the vast U.S.-Mexico border in any legislation to fund government agencies.

“I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“In a short while, I will sign a bill to open our government for three weeks until Feb. 15. I will make sure that all employees receive their back pay very quickly, or as soon as possible,” Trump said.

With the effects of the shutdown spreading on Friday, Trump said a bipartisan congressional conference committee would meet to come up with a plan for border security.

Trump triggered the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22 and idled some 800,000 government employees, with his wall-funding demand but Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, rejected it on the grounds that a wall would be costly, ineffective and immoral. Trump, whose Republicans have a majority in the Senate, has said it is necessary to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

The arrangement, which would require passage in the House and Senate and Trump’s signature, would leave his request for wall funding for later talks, a House Democratic aide said. The House could pass the measure as soon as later Friday if Republicans agree to hold a vote, the aide said.

A Senate Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to press for passage of a three-week funding bill on Friday.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea. We never did,” Trump said. “We never proposed that. We never wanted that because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we could build.

“Our proposed structures will be in predetermined, high-risk locations that have been specifically identified by the Border Patrol to stop illicit flows of people and drugs,” Trump said.

FUNDING AT LAST YEAR’S LEVELS

The temporary funding bill would extend agency funding at the last fiscal year’s levels and would include some money for border security – but not a wall.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he wanted to hear what Trump had to say before he would assume there was an iron-clad deal.

In one of the many effects of the shutdown, hundreds of flights were grounded or delayed at airports in the New York area and Philadelphia on Friday as more air traffic controllers called in sick.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for flights destined for New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Friday morning before lifting it about an hour later. Staff shortages also delayed flights at Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport, the FAA said.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed or, as with some airport workers, required to work without pay. Some federal agencies have reported much higher absence rates among workers as they face an indefinite wait for their next paychecks.

The lapse in funding has shuttered about one-quarter of federal agencies, with about 800,000 workers either furloughed or required to work without pay. It is the longest such shutdown in U.S. history. Many employees, as well as contractors, were turning to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support. Others began seeking new jobs.

On Thursday, a bill backed by Trump to end the shutdown by including the $5.7 billion he wants for partial wall funding and a separate bill supported by Democrats to reopen shuttered agencies without such funding did not get the votes required to advance in the 100-member Senate.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday the possibility of legislation that includes a large down payment on a wall, “is not a reasonable agreement.”

A Washington Post-ABC News opinion poll published on Friday showed public disapproval of Trump has swelled 5 percentage points to 58 percent over three months, with a majority of Americans holding him and congressional Republicans most responsible for the shutdown. The poll found that more than one in five Americans say they have been personally inconvenienced by the shutdown.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Editing by Bill Trott)

Democrats push technology as alternative to Trump wall in shutdown impasse

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives floated the idea on Wednesday of ending a partial government shutdown by giving President Donald Trump most or all of the money he seeks for border security with Mexico but for items other than a physical wall.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, told reporters that Democrats could fulfill Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for border security with technological tools such as drones, X-rays and sensors, as well as more border patrol agents.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, also said Democrats would be discussing “substantial sums of additional money” for border security as part of a possible deal. He did not say if it would amount to the $5.7 billion sought by Trump.

Trump has demanded funding for a physical wall in a showdown with Democrats that has left 800,000 federal workers without pay amid a partial government shutdown that entered its 33rd day on Wednesday.

Clyburn’s offer would be a significant monetary increase over bills previously passed by Democrats, which included only about $1.3 billion for this year in additional border security, with none of that for a wall.

“Using the figure the president put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” Clyburn said.

As congressional Democrats and Trump battle over border security and government funding, a parallel controversy continued over the president’s upcoming State of the Union address.

Trump sent a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday saying he looked forward to delivering it as scheduled on Jan. 29 in the House chamber. Pelosi had earlier asked Trump to consider postponing because security could not be guaranteed during the shutdown.

The U.S. Senate has scheduled votes for Thursday on competing proposals that face steep odds to end the shutdown.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on Thursday on a Democratic proposal that would fund the government for three weeks but does not include the $5.7 billion in partial funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Its prospects appeared grim. The House has passed several similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include border wall funding. McConnell previously said he would not consider a bill that Trump did not support.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on legislation that would include border wall funding and temporary relief for “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children, a compromise Trump proposed on Saturday.

Democrats have dismissed the deal, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government, and that they would not trade a temporary restoration of the immigrants’ protections from deportation in return for a permanent border wall they view as ineffective.

Trump’s plan is “wrapping paper on the same partisan package,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.

Trump, in a series of morning tweets, pushed fellow Republicans to stand by border wall, which during his 2016 campaign he had said Mexico would pay for. He was scheduled to discuss his immigration plan with local leaders and with conservative leaders at the White House.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump also has made calls to Democrats.

Furloughed federal workers are struggling to make ends meet during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Many have turned to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support, or have sought new jobs.

 

(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Roberta Rampton, Eric Beech, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

U.S. air safety agents absences hit record level; shutdown in Day 31

FILE PHOTO: Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, where employees are going unpaid amid a partial government shutdown, said on Monday that unscheduled absences among U.S. airport security officers rose to a record 10 percent on Sunday as the shutdown reached its 31st day.

The agency said the rate was up from the previous high of 7 percent on Saturday. It also was more than three times the 3.1 percent absence rate on the same day last year, when the government also was partially closed due to legislative funding issues.

As the partial government shutdown continues, air safety has become a top concern as the number of TSA agents not showing up for work grows.

The agency said many employees, who are not being paid because of the shutdown, are not reporting to work because of financial hardships.

More than 50,000 TSA officers are among some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown. [nL1N1ZK05R]

Nearly all 1.78 million passengers screened Sunday faced normal security waits of 30 minutes or less, despite the absences, TSA said.

Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and on Sunday, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government has been shuttered since Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider.

The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Chris Sanders and Bill Trott)

White House restricts U.S. lawmakers’ travel amid shutdown

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration has barred U.S. congressional travel on government-owned or operated aircraft during the partial government shutdown, unless they have White House approval, according to a memo issued on Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The move marks an escalation by the White House, which on Thursday blocked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from using a military plane for a congressional trip to Afghanistan. Pelosi’s office accused the administration of leaking commercial travel plans on Friday, which a White House official has denied.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey)

Trump cancels planned Davos trip as shutdown drags on

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned visit later this month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, signaling he was prepared for the political showdown over the partial federal government shutdown to stretch into late January.

It was unclear whether the shutdown, now in its 20th day, would end before the start of the global economic meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 22 to 25. Trump and congressional Democrats are in a battle over funding for the government and Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Because of the Democrats intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president had told reporters at the White House earlier on Thursday that he intended to speak at the forum but would not attend if the shutdown continued.

The cancellation quashes any opportunity for Trump to meet with other world leaders about economic issues, including trade.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after a briefing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he was talking with the White House about whether he would still make the trip to Switzerland.

“My guess is if we do continue it, it will be in a scaled-back version,” Mnuchin said.

The Trump administration is engaged in trade talks with the European Union and China, among others.

China and the United States have agreed to a 90-day pause in implementing tariffs in order to hammer out a trade deal.

China’s vice president, Wang Qishan, was expected to attend the Swiss meeting, but it was unclear whether any talks had been planned between him and Trump.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)

U.S. government shutdown drags into fourth week amid stalemate

Travelers wait in a security line at Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A partial government shutdown entered its 24th day on Monday as talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remained stalled even as some of Trump’s fellow Republicans called on the president to cut a deal and strains mounted nationwide.

Trump appeared unmoved to act, however, retweeting criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer that urged the top Democratic leaders to negotiate with him over funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’ve been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet on Monday.

Democrats have rejected Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall in addition to other border funds but have said they would support $1.3 billion to bolster border security in other ways, including beefing up the number of Border Patrol agents and increasing surveillance.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government shut down last month as Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress as well as the White House. In December Trump said he would take responsibility for the shutdown but has since shifted the blame to Democrats. A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the closures, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

He now must win concessions from the Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month following November’s elections. He also must win over enough Senate Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to pass funding legislation there.

The stress from the shutdown became more visible as 800,000 federal employees across the United States missed their first paychecks on Friday. The cut government services also affected travelers as a jump in unscheduled absences among federal airport security screeners forced partial closures of airports in Houston and Miami.

National parks also remain shuttered, food and drug inspections have been curtailed and key economic data is on hold, among other impacts. Federal courts are set to run out of money on Friday.

ADDRESS TO FARMERS

Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to address a New Orleans gathering of farmers, a key bloc of Trump supporters who have been hit by the shutdown as federal loan and farm aid applications have stalled and key farming and crop data has been delayed.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who last week had called on Trump to declare a national emergency as a way to get money to build his wall, on Sunday urged the president to instead reopen the government for a short period of time in an effort to restart talks before taking such action.

Declaring a national emergency over immigration issues is fiercely opposed by Democrats and remains unpopular with some Republicans. It also would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

Pelosi called on the Republican-led Senate to vote on several bills passed earlier this month by the House to fund affected departments that do not include money for Trump’s wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up any legislation that does not have Trump’s support.

Representatives for Schumer could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Both the Senate and the House were scheduled to reconvene on Monday afternoon, despite a weekend winter storm shuttered much of the Washington area and it remained unclear what, if any, steps lawmakers might take to address the lapsed funding measures for affected agencies.

Senator Chris Coons on Monday reiterated fellow Democrats’ call for Trump to reopen the government while negotiations over the wall and immigration continue.

He acknowledged efforts by Graham and other Republicans to forge a temporary solution but said Trump has been unpredictable even among fellow conservatives with ever-shifting positions.

“Every time they make progress, the president throws cold water on it,” Coons told CNN in an interview.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

Air travel fears mount as U.S. government shutdown drags on

An employee with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checks the documents of a traveler at Reagan National Airport in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay warned that security and safety could be compromised if a government shutdown continues beyond Friday when some workers will miss their first paychecks.

On the 19th day of a partial government shutdown caused by a dispute over funding President Donald Trump wants for a border wall, the president stormed out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders, complaining the meeting was “a total waste of time.”

As the effects of the shutdown began to ripple out, the Trump administration insisted that air travel staffing was adequate and travelers had not faced unusual delays.

But union officials said some Transport Security Administration (TSA) officers, who carry out security screening in airports, had already quit because of the shutdown and others were considering quitting.

“The loss of (TSA) officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires,” American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said. “If this keeps up there are problems that will arise – least of which would be increased wait times for travelers.”

Aviation unions, airport and airline officials and lawmakers will hold a rally on Thursday outside Congress urging an end to the shutdown.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the organization was hiring officers and working on contingency plans in case the shutdown lasted beyond Friday, when officers would miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

“There has been no degradation in security effectiveness and average wait times are well within TSA standards,” he said.

He added that there had been no spike in employees quitting and that on Tuesday 5 percent of officers took unscheduled leave, up just slightly from 3.9 percent the same day last year. It screened 1.73 million passengers and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes, the TSA said.

But U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, questioned how long adequate staffing at airports could continue.

“TSA officers are among the lowest paid federal employees, with many living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Thompson wrote. “It is only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay.”

Airports Council International-North America, which represents U.S. airports, urged Trump and congressional leaders in a letter to quickly reopen the government.

“TSA staffing shortages brought on by this shutdown are likely to further increase checkpoint wait times and may even lead to the complete closure of some checkpoints,” the group said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) noted that the number of controllers was already at a 30-year low, with 18 percent of controllers eligible to retire.

If a significant number of controllers missed work, the Federal Aviation Administration could be forced to extend the amount of time between takeoffs and landings, which could delay travel, it said.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said controllers often must work overtime and six-day weeks at short-staffed locations. “If the staffing shortage gets worse, we will see reduced capacity in the National Airspace System, meaning more flight delays,” Rinaldi said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien)