WASHINGTON: Washington’s National Christmas Tree went dark Monday on the third day of a US government shutdown that left President Donald Trump fuming at opponents and stock markets teetering.
The tree, whose spectacular lights were switched on at a ceremony attended by Trump earlier this month, became a forlorn symbol of the dysfunction gripping Washington two years into his presidency.
The National Park Service tweeted that it would remain unlit and closed to the public “until further notice,” with checks being made for damage following an attempt by an intruder on Friday to climb the tree.
The parks service is one of the many state institutions suffering from a suspension of funding triggered by Trump’s refusal to sign a broad spending package unless Congress agrees to allocate $5 billion for his controversial barrier along the US-Mexican border.
The budget standoff could drag on into January, when the new Congress is seated, although negotiations were planned for Thursday, offering a glimmer of hope.
Trump made a Mexico border wall one of his main campaign promises and the idea is popular with many Republicans backing the president’s message that illegal immigration is out of control.
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress oppose the plans as impractical, unnecessary and fueling xenophobia against Central Americans.
The shutdown only adds to uncertainties spooking global stock markets after a tumultuous week in which respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and the president stepped up attacks on the supposedly independent chairman of the Federal Reserve.
– ‘He can’t putt!’ –
He renewed the invective on Monday, comparing the Fed to a blundering golfer “who can’t score because he has no touch – he can’t putt!”
Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had spent much of the weekend in damage control mode following reports that Trump had privately asked cabinet members whether he has the authority to fire Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
Last week, the central bank hiked rates, infuriating Trump who has ignored a traditional respect for the Fed’s independence, calling it “crazy”, “out of control” and a greater economic threat than China.
Mnuchin on Saturday quoted Trump as denying any plan to remove Powell.
The Dow Jones index dropped 400 points or 1.8 percent in early trading Monday, following deep losses in Europe.
Domestic issues are just part of the far from merry Christmas picture, with Trump also juggling a trade war with China and fallout from his abrupt decision to pull US troops from Afghanistan and Syria.
Forced to delay his annual winter vacation in Florida, Trump cuts an increasingly lonely figure in the White House, where he presides over a government lacking a permanent defense secretary, attorney general or White House chief of staff.
In six rambling morning tweets, Trump lashed out at congressional opponents, rejected widespread criticism that his Syria and Afghan decisions had left allies in the lurch, and denied responsibility for market wobbles.
“AMERICA IS RESPECTED AGAIN!” he declared defiantly.
About three-quarters of the government, including the military, is fully funded through September 2019 but the partial shutdown forced several other major agencies to cease operations from Saturday.
The shutdown meant that more than 400,000 federal employees reported to their jobs on Monday without getting paid, while nearly 400,000 others “will be locked out of work with no pay,” the American Federation of Government Employees union said.
“No private business or company would be permitted to impose on or disrupt the lives of their employees in such a manner,” the Federation said in letters to the Senate and House of Representatives.
A deal to end the funding shortfall appears a distant prospect as Congress adjourned on the weekend for Christmas.
“It’s very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress” which takes its seat in early January, White House budget director and incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said.
But while trying to pin the blame on Democrats, Mulvaney, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” acknowledged that Trump’s hardline stand played a role.
“This is what Washington looks like when you have a president who refuses to sort of go along to get along,” Mulvaney said.