National Christmas Tree reopens with help of donations

December 25, 2018 - 9:47 am
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The lights were not twinkling. The toy trains were not whirring. Even the nearby bathrooms were locked.

The national Christmas tree, symbol of a country's seasonal cheer, instead stood as an icon of a government in paralysis, as the partial shutdown stretched into the holiday with an array of federal services frozen, some 800,000 public servants either idled or about to be and the disruption to the broader public bound to grow when the quiet spell ends later this week.

Already facilities at many national parks were shuttered, if the parks were accessible at all, and thousands of federal buildings were to remain closed when the work week resumed unless President Donald Trump and members of Congress quickly break through a budget impasse that the White House said could drag on into 2019.

Under cloudy skies in a brisk wind on the third day of the shutdown, the capital put on little holiday wonder for visitors like Greg Forcherio of Columbia, Maryland, a government contractor with no office to work in after the holidays as long as federal buildings stayed closed. He, his wife and their toddler on Monday came to see the giant, glittering spruce tree brought from Colorado to serve as the national Christmas tree, normally a focal point for Washington holiday visitors.

But a locked chain-link fence blocked access to the site and the nearby White House visitor's center and its bathrooms were closed, with a hand-scrawled sign directing visitors to portable toilets, which also were chained shut. "Kind of annoying when you've got young children," Forcherio said.

Access to the site was restored later Monday and finally, as night fell on Christmas Eve, the lights returned. The government had announced a day earlier that it would be sealed off because of the shutdown and because repairs had slowed after an episode of vandalism on the tree before the weekend. It reopened with money from the National Park Foundation, a charity.

A labor organization representing U.S. Treasury employees said Monday that federal workers around the country were cutting back on spending and changing holiday plans with family because of the shutdown.

"Just in case anyone still thinks a partial shutdown over a holiday weekend is harmless, think again," Tony Reardon of the National Treasury Employees Union said in a statement. "Your friends and neighbors around the country who work for the federal government are already showing signs of financial stress."