Washington: US President Donald Trump has promised a “major announcement” about the ongoing government shutdown as it entered its 29th day on Saturday, while Democrats hope to increase pressure on his presidency by pursuing allegations by his former lawyer that Trump had made him lie to Congress.
Trump tweeted on Friday night that he will make the announcement at 3 p.m. on Saturday from the White House “concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border and the Shutdown”.
While he left the nation in suspense about his plans, there was a small sign of progress in finding a solution to the shutdown with the Democrats offering to add $1.87 billion to the budget for border security, but not for the wall.
Trump has been adamant about getting $5.7 billion in the budget to build the wall along the Mexican border, which the Democrats have refused with equal vehemence.
Because of their disagreement there is no budget and all but the essential government operations have been shutdown temporarily because there is no money to pay for them.
About 800,000 workers are off work because of the shutdown and most, including those working, haven’t been paid since January 11.
At the border with Mexico, about 7,000 Central Americans who came in a caravan hoping to enter the US are camped out there in make-shift shelter and some have been repelled by the border patrol with teargas when they tried to crash the border. Another caravan of thousands is on its way.
Meanwhile, Democrats have found a new avenue to go after Trump from a report in the BuzzFeed News website that the President’s former personal attorney , Michael Cohen, had told investigators looking into allegations of Russian interference into the elections that Trump had asked him to lie to Congress about negotiations for a hotel in Moscow.
If the website’s report based on two unidentified sources from investigation is true, he could be guilty of crimes that could be grounds for impeachment.
Democrat Senator Ralph Blumenthal demanded that the Senate Judiciary Committee ask Cohen to testify.
He said that if the reports the reports were true, Trump would be guilty of obstruction of justice, suborning perjury, and conspiracy to violate laws prohibiting false statements to Congress.
Cohen is scheduled to testify before a House committee on February 7.
His credibility, though, is at risk because he has admitted in court in November that he had lied to Congressional committees investigating the Russian links about the Trump Organization’s plans for building a hotel in Moscow.
After being convicted, he was sentenced to three years in prison for that and other offences and Trump pounced on it. Cohen is “lying to reduce his jail time,” Trump tweeted.
Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director, was appointed in 2017 to probe allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 election as well as collusion by Trump or his campaign with Moscow.
After 20 months of investigations he has not come up publicly with any direct Russian connections to Trump and Cohen’s allegations, if proved true, will give Democrats the anti-Trump ammunition they have been seeking.
The standoff over the budget has descended into cheap drama with Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocking Trump from delivering the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of the Congress and the president retaliating by refusing to let her use a government plane to visit US troops in Afghanistan.
The Democrat’s offer of additional money for border security is an attempt to show both that they are willing to make some compromise and to make clear that the mainstream of the party is against open borders and unchecked immigration, which some in the party advocate.
Trump’s planned speech on Saturday will come after a nation-wide Women’s March starting that morning to protest his policies considered detrimental to women, demand the preservation of abortion rights and to promote their rights, as well as those of minorities and immigrants.
The March has been an annual event after the first massive event held in 2017 in Washington the day after Trump’s swearing-in. Drawing abut 500,000 participants it is considered to be among the biggest demonstrations held in the nation’s capital.
Reflecting the nation’s deep polarisation, an anti-abortion rally was held in Washington on Friday with thousands participating. Trump sent a prerecorded message of support to the rally and Vice President Mike Pence attended it personally, telling them: “We will stand with you until that great day comes where we restore the sanctity of life to the centre of American law.”
Unlike in India, abortion continues to be a live issue with political conservatives, mostly in the Republican Party, constantly vowing to criminalise it – a position supported by Trump – making it a symbol of the nation’s political divide.