US government shutdown imminent as party politics descends into bickering and farce

ITV News US Correspondent Robert Moore reports from Washington as the government faces shutdown

This is one of those moments in American political life when you sense that Washington may be about to come off the rails. The country feels febrile and dysfunctional.

It's not just the partisan and toxic debate that is gripping Congress and the country. That's nothing new.

Rather, it's a combination of several key events all coming together at the very start of a volatile year-long election season.

Firstly, Congress has failed to pass a budget. If it can't agree on one by late on Saturday night - 5am Sunday morning, UK time - then the government of the United States will close down.

'We're 62 hours away from shutting down the government... and Republicans are launching an impeachment drive based on a long-debunked lie,' said Representative and attorney Jamie Raskin

Federal workers will be sent home, unpaid. National parks will close. Numerous welfare programmes will be curtailed. America's reputation for competent management - if it still has one - will be shredded.

Secondly, a key committee in the House of Representatives has opened up an investigation into the Biden family finances. It could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee claim - without clear evidence - that President Biden is corrupt. Or at least, he may be.

There is no doubt that his son, Hunter Biden, has pursued some opaque and questionable business projects both in Ukraine and China.

Congressman and Chair of the Oversight Committee James Comer opens the Biden impeachment inquiry hearing on Thursday

He has been paid large amounts of money for no clear cut services. But there is no smoking gun.

Not even - in the words of one Democratic Congressman - a dripping water pistol.

Crucially, nothing yet suggests that Joe Biden directly profited from Hunter's business dealings.

Democrats were withering about the Republicans' tactics and evidence, with one Congresswoman's committee statement going viral. Jasmine Crockett, from Texas, decided not to hold back in attacking Trump and defending Biden.

Thirdly, Donald Trump is besieged by so many court cases and civil legal actions that it seems astonishing that he is still standing, let alone leading by a huge margin in the race to be the Republican presidential nominee.

US President Joe Biden (right) and his son Hunter Biden. Credit: AP

So it is possible that we will enter 2024 with one presidential nominee, Joe Biden, facing impeachment hearings; and the other, Donald Trump, facing criminal convictions and jail time.

Furthermore, Trump's property empire could collapse next month as he faces huge fines and a withdrawal of his New York business licenses.

Put all this together and there is a crisis in governance and a crisis of faith in the integrity of the major parties.

Both sides believe the other is not just wrong, but treasonous.

And there is such little trust in the justice system that the fact that Trump is facing 91 criminal charges is having no impact on his political fortunes.

By next week, the US government may have a "Closed for Business" sign over the shop.

That would be a fitting symbol of a country that seems dysfunctional at the very moment when it needs to be fighting the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world.

Moscow and Beijing may be looking at America, smiling.

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