The impact from a partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government has grown further after Christmas as it stretched into the fifth day on Wednesday.
The shutdown, which started Friday midnight, resulted from a budgetary impasse between the White House and Congress over whether to fund the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a plank of President Donald Trump's campaign in 2016.
Both chambers of Congress are scheduled to convene on Thursday, but it wasn't clear how much progress can be expected in negotiations. Trump said the shutdown "could be a long stay" and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said it could drag on to next year.
Wednesday is the first working day after the start of the shutdown, with nine of 15 cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies affected.
REDUCED STAFFING AT PARKS
Some national parks remained open but operated with reduced staffing. Some of the facilities such as restrooms or information centers are closed.
At Rock Creek Park, a national park that bisects the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., runners and hikers found the visitor center closed, with a notice attached to the front door urging visitors to use "extreme caution" as park personnel will not be available to "provide guidance, assistance, maintenance and emergency response" due to the government shutdown.
Marc Hample, who was visiting the park with families on Wednesday, said he hasn't felt the impact personally but believes federal workers who depend on the federal paychecks are being affected.
The equipment specialist said he is disappointed about the shutdown, blaming it on the "Washington wisdom, or lack thereof."
The Mikkelsen family from Denmark, who is in Washington D.C. for a one-week trip, told Xinhua that they were at first "nervous" about the potential impact of the shutdown, but later were relieved to find that the Smithsonian museums are still open.
Smithsonian officials announced Friday that the 19 museums in Washington D.C. and New York City will not close in the event of the shutdown with unused "prior-year funds" and that they "will reevaluate the situation" after Jan. 1.
The National Gallery of Art, located just a few minutes' walk from the Capitol Hill, will also remain open until end of this year. A security guard at the gallery, who declined to be named, said he had to go home soon if the shutdown extends into January. "What can you do?" he said with a shrug.
According to an estimate by the Senate Appropriations Committee, more than 420,000 federal employees deemed essential have to work without pay during the shutdown, and roughly 380,000 have been given leave without pay.
Nearly 80 percent of federal employees responding to a survey by the U.S. National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) earlier this week said that they were "very concerned" about paying their rental and bills this month, and more than 85 percent said they were tightening their belts.
"The anxiety level among federal employees is extremely high and on top of that, there is real anger that they are paying the personal price for someone else's dysfunction," NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.
The shutdown stories remain a trending hashtag on Twitter as government employees and contractors are sharing experiences of inconvenience.
John Deal, who said he and his wife both work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as contractors, tweeted that his employer has halted most of its non-essential activities and that they "have 100% loss of family income."
"Thanks to all our gov't representation for doing their job?" said Deal, adding that his son's tuition fee is due in four weeks.
IMPASSE OVER BORDER WALL FUNDING
In a series of tweets this week, Trump tried to pin the shutdown, the third this year, on Democrats, urging them to provide billions of U.S. dollars for building the border wall, which he and conservatives have viewed as essential to addressing illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
"Whatever it takes, we need a wall," Trump said during his unannounced visit to U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday. "We need safety for our country."
Democrats have strongly pushed back, slapping the Trump proposal as an "inefficient, unnecessary and costly" solution to strengthening border security as well as "a political stunt" to galvanize his base.
Analysts and observers have said that it's hard to predict when the political stalemate would end as Republicans and Democrats are still deeply divided over the border wall, which has also torn the public apart.
"The shutdown could easily go on for weeks and there will be no winners -- only losers," Mark Penn, former chief strategist on Bill Clinton's 1996 presidential campaign, wrote in an op-ed carried by Fox News.