ST. GEORGE — Americans awoke Saturday to learn that quarreling politicians in Washington had failed to keep their government in business, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. National parks in Utah are among those affected by the shutdown, remaining open but with bare-bones staffing.
From House to Senate to shutdown
After hours of closed-door meetings and phone calls, the Senate scheduled its late Friday night vote, which failed, on a House of Representatives plan to fund the government through mid-February that had passed Thursday, 230 to 197.
Utah Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah issued his statement Thursday following the House vote: “Tonight’s vote on a continuing resolution (CR) highlights the country’s broken budget and appropriations process. While I voted to keep the government open, today will be the last time I support a CR. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I have a duty and obligation to oversee how the government spends the people’s money. We must return to a process that ensures our sacred tax dollars are used properly.”
In the Senate Friday night, the plan gained 50 votes to proceed but suffered with 49 against it. Sixty votes were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.
Democrats balked in an effort to put pressure on the White House to cut a deal to protect immigrants brought to the country as children and now here illegally — commonly called “Dreamers” — before their legal protection runs out in March.
The result is the fourth government shutdown in a quarter-century. It began at the stroke of midnight Friday, shortly after Senate Democrats blocked a four-week budget extension and a flurry of last-minute negotiations could not beat the clock.
It was a striking display of Washington dysfunction, and the finger-pointing came quickly. It comes with no shortage of embarrassment for Trump and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.
Trump tweeted that Democrats “wanted to give me a nice present” to mark the start of his second year in office.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch released his statement Friday night asking for compromise on both sides.
“There was only one acceptable vote tonight, and that was to keep the government open,” Hatch said. “I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in ending this shutdown quickly so that the government can continue providing necessary services to the American people.”
The closure began at the start of a weekend, so many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans. Damage could build quickly if the closure is prolonged.
National parks, National Guard – Utah impacts
Among those affected by the shutdown are the country’s national parks, monuments, recreation areas and historic places.
The government’s contingency plan for the shutdown, as pertains to the National Park Service, stated:
Parks must notify visitors that the NPS will cease providing visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing), campground reservation and check-in/check-out services, backcountry and other permits, and public information. National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel.
Utah officials have said the state’s five national parks will still be accessible but with bare-bones staffing.
Utah Office of Tourism managing director Vicki Varela said her office and the superintendents of Utah’s parks discussed contingency plans Friday afternoon and expect parks to be open but with minimal services.
Services like visitors centers and trash collection will be curtailed, snowplowing will be limited and no park rangers will be on duty. Visitors should exercise caution, Varela said, and those who experience an emergency will be best served by finding cellphone service and calling 911 rather than looking for a ranger to help.
Entry gates will be left open but stations nearby where park rangers typically collect park entry fees will be unstaffed. Fees will not be charged for entrance.
Nate Wells, general manager of Zion Canyon Village, said in a text message that access throughout Zion National Park will be limited, but state Route 9 will remain open.
“The Mount Carmel Highway or SR9 will remain open to travelers, automobiles and motorcycles. The Zion Canyon scenic drive will remain open. The Mount Carmel tunnel will remain open, however, large vehicles will be limited to hours between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement Friday regarding the then possible impending shutdown. It states in part:
In the event of a federal government shutdown the State of Utah’s operations will continue as normal. State support will allow programs that operate in partnership with the federal government to function in the short term, even if federal funding is temporarily curtailed.
In contrast to Utah’s most recent experience with a federal government shutdown, this administration is working responsively with Utah to minimize local impacts.
For example, in the last government shutdown the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, was not authorized to spend any reserves and had to shut down. This administration would allow the State of Utah to use reserves to keep WIC functioning.
Additionally, we have every reason to believe that Utah’s National Parks will remain open, albeit with limited services. As in the past, the state of Utah would consider providing emergency funding to maintain appropriate access and safety in the National Parks throughout the duration of a shutdown.
Should there be any disruption accessing federal recreational opportunities in Utah, we remind visitors that Utah’s 43 state parks also offer incomparable outdoor experiences.
More information about what visitors to Utah could expect in the case of a shutdown can be found at visitutah.com/shutdown.
Concern by interest groups was expressed about the reduced staff and conservation efforts in the national parks.
“The reality is that our parks can’t operate without the Park Service,” Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club’s associate director of its outdoors campaign, said. “Keeping them open without staff is dangerous for both visitors and for the delicate ecosystems in our parks. Risking both visitors and important cultural sites to win political points is the height of irresponsibility.”
“There is no substitute for National Park Service staff and their expertise, and it is not wise to put the public or our park resources at risk by allowing for half-measures to keep them open,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement Friday. “And yet, that’s exactly what the Department of Interior is asking park superintendents to do.”
Herbert also noted in his statement Friday afternoon that the largest state organization in Utah most directly affected by a government shutdown would be the Utah National Guard.
“Although the roughly 1,000 active duty guard members will ensure that critical functions continue,” Herbert said, “an additional 1,300 full-time employees who are not active duty, such as federally funded technicians, would be affected. Utah National Guard drills would have to be cancelled.”
Congress holds weekend session, other effects
The Republican-controlled Congress scheduled an unusual weekend session to begin considering a three-week version of a short-term spending measure and to broadcast to the people they serve that they were at work as the closure commenced. It seemed likely that each side would push for votes aimed at making the other party look culpable for shuttering federal agencies.
Trump spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell early Saturday to discuss next steps, while chief of staff John Kelly also worked the phones. Top White House negotiators, legislative affairs director Marc Short and budget director Mick Mulvaney, went to Capitol Hill to meet with House Republicans.
Democrats say they oppose the three-week plan, which they view as a way to stall negotiations over the future of the “Dreamers” — the young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and facing possible deportation when their protection expires in March. Republicans declared they would not reopen talks until the government shutdown ends, a strategy aimed at trying to erode Democratic cohesion.
“Negotiations will not go on until we open the government up and start being serious about the fundamental issue that is before us all,” Rep. Mark Meadows, a conservative leader, said Saturday.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday on the House floor that Trump had earned an F for “failure in leadership.” She said Republicans are “so incompetent and negligent that they couldn’t get it together to keep the government open.”
Trump said Democrats “could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.” In a series of tweets hours after the shutdown began, the president tried to make the case for Americans to elect more Republicans to Congress in November “in order to power through this mess.” He noted that there are 51 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, and it often takes 60 votes to advance legislation.
Social Security and most other safety-net programs are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.
Democrats are laying fault for the shutdown on Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House and have struggled with building internal consensus. Republicans are holding Democrats responsible after they declined to provide the votes needed to overcome a filibuster over their desire to force the passage of legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.
“Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous” border with Mexico, Trump tweeted.
Republicans branded the confrontation a “Schumer shutdown,” after New York’s Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader. He said a “Trump shutdown” was more accurate.
Earlier Friday, Trump had brought Schumer to the White House in hopes of cutting a deal on a short-term spending agreement.
The two New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their negotiating abilities, started talking over cheeseburgers about a larger agreement that would have included greater military spending and money for a Southern border wall. But the talks fell apart almost as abruptly as they started.
Nonetheless, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney predicted a deal would be reached by Monday, when most government offices are to reopen after the weekend.
Trump had been an unreliable negotiator in the weeks leading up to the showdown. Earlier this week he tweeted opposition to the four-week plan, forcing the White House to later affirm his support. He expressed openness to extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, only to reject a bipartisan proposal. His disparaging remarks about African and Haitian immigrants last week helped derail further negotiations.
Trump had been set to leave Friday afternoon to attend a fundraiser at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate marking the inauguration anniversary but delayed his travel.
The last shutdown came in 2013. Tea party Republicans, in a strategy not unlike the one Schumer is employing now, sought to use a must-pass budget bill to try to force President Barack Obama to delay implementation of his health care law. At the time, Trump told “Fox & Friends” that the ultimate blame for a shutdown lies at the top. “I really think the pressure is on the president,” he said.
Arguing that Trump’s predecessors “weaponized” that shutdown, Mulvaney said his budget office would direct agencies to work to mitigate the impact this time. That position is a striking role reversal for the conservative former congressman who was one of the architects of the 2013 shutdown.
St. George News Editor in Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report. The Associated Press writers ZEKE MILLER, ANDREW TAYLOR and ALAN FRAM contributed to this report, with additional contributions from AP writers Jill Colvin, Richard Lardner, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York.
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