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WASHINGTON -- The Cambridge English Dictionary defines blackmail as "the act of getting money from people or forcing them to do something by threatening to tell a secret of theirs or to harm them."

That sounds like what President Trump is doing to force Congress to hand over $5.7 billion so he can build his wall along 200 miles of our 2,000-mile border with Mexico.

The president has told House Democratic leaders that if they do not agree to give him this money, he will not sign the budget bill needed to keep many parts of the federal government running and pay their salaries.

Democrats, who have majority control of the House, where all federal funding originates, are flatly opposed to the wall, which they say is a wasteful, unneeded, frivolous political boondoggle.

On Wednesday, the partial government shutdown goes into its 33th day, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, with neither side giving any substantive ground.

Thousands of federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay, about 800,000 employees in all, causing widespread financial hardships throughout the government.

Many federal workers haven't enough cash to pay their rent, mortgage, grocery bills and other necessities. And critical government responsibilities are not being fulfilled, including tax refunds and airline safety, among many other federal services.

Then, when the outlook for any concessions appeared bleakest, Trump began to give a little ground, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided that two could play at this game.

In a letter to Trump on Wednesday, Pelosi suggested that it would be best to postpone the president's State of the Union address because the shutdown had weakened security personnel resources needed for that event on Jan. 29.

"Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29," she wrote.

Pelosi pointedly noted that "it was my privilege as Speaker to invite you to deliver the State of the Union address," underscoring that the president addresses Congress only by her invitation.

She reminded him that during "the 19th century and up until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, these annual State of the Union messages were delivered to Congress in writing."

And if Trump didn't fully grasp her point, she added that "since the start of modern budgeting in Fiscal Year 1977, a State of the Union address has never been delivered during a government shutdown."

Pelosi's timing was impeccable because it followed the Trump administration's announcement Tuesday that it was calling back tens of thousands of government workers to handle key federal jobs, including tax refunds, airline flight safety, and food and drug supply inspections.

In what amounted to an "Oops, we goofed" admission, Trump was calling back nearly 50,000 furloughed federal employees.

Had he thought through the damaging consequences of his government shutdown order? Did he listen to his White House advisers who told him that it would end up hurting him politically, and make him look like he didn't know what he was doing?

A lot of damage already has been done to major government operations, people's lives have been turned upside down, and nothing useful has been accomplished.

Trump met with Democratic leaders last week to work out a compromise, but when he asked Pelosi if she would agree to building his wall and she said "no," he walked out of the room. So much for his supposed ability to cut deals.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said that nothing was going to change until both sides agreed to negotiate seriously. "Until that happens, the situation looks bleak," he said.

Shelby noted that the impasse reminded him of the play "Waiting for Godot," by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, about two men waiting for Godot to show up, but in the end, he never does.

Hope of a quick compromise agreement seemed dim this week.

When reporters asked Sen. John Neely Kennedy, (R-La.) if there was anything more that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could do to end the shutdown, he replied:

"Pray."

Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.

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