More than 800,000 federal employees have worked or been furloughed through two pay cycles since the partial shutdown began on Dec. 22. While backpay is guaranteed to them when their agencies eventually reopen, those struggling with bills in the interim have had to make serious adjustments.
The White House, administration officials and some supporters of the president do not seem overly sympathetic to these struggles.
In days leading up to the shutdown, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that shutdowns are "just part of the job" of public service and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., asked on Dec. 20, "Why are government employees so sacrosanct?" adding, "Private sector employees deal with this all the time . . .The government’s not immune to these things." Their comments were met with derision online by feds and non-feds alike.
Since the shutdown began that week, President Trump committed what many considered verbal faux pas. On Jan. 4, Trump said that feds told him they support his fight for the border wall (despite repeated polling that shows most do not) and that they will surely be able to make deals with those to whom they owe money.
I’ve been a landlord for a long time. I’ve been in the real estate business for a long time. When you see their problems out there, their difficulties out there, you know, the people are all good for the money. They work with people.
Trump reiterated the comments later that week, saying, "I'm sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustment. They always do.” He also said that he, a self-described billionaire son of a millionaire, "can relate" to feds missing their paychecks.
Members of the administration have downplayed the economic impact on federal employees. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said in an interview with PBS Newshour that feds are "better off" in some ways because of the shutdown and are essentially on "vacation." He has since walked back his comments.
This week brought more insensitive comments from administration-affiliated officials. Lara Trump, an adviser to the president and a frequent TV guest defending her father-in-law's administration, told digital news network Bold TV that the fight for the border wall "is so much bigger than any one" federal employee and that "It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country."
Thursday was a particularly tough day for Trump administration officials' speaking to feds's struggles. The day began Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross telling CNBC that he "didn't understand" why any feds were visiting food banks and even downplayed the economic problems that feds could face while not getting paid. "The 30 days of pay that people will be out," Ross said. "There's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it and we've seen a number of ads from the financial institutions doing that." Ross was met with swift criticism from leading Congressional Democrats and his comments even inspired the French Revolution-evoking headline "Let Them Eat Loans" on Bloomberg.
Later on Thursday, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow downplayed the shutdown from the White House Briefing Room. “The moment, the nanosecond the government is . . . reopened all these glitches will go away,” he said and later said that excepted feds working without pay are going through a "temporary hardship." The former Bear Sterns executive also said he did not think he was "out of touch" and mentioned that his own staff members working without pay were "volunteering" because they believe in their mission and support President Trump.
When Trump was asked about Ross's comments Thursday he did not sound markedly more sympathetic. “If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that’s what happens in a time like this." Trump later seemed to imply that grocery stories will give free groceries or set up a tab for unpaid feds who need help during the shutdown.
Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else. So I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say was that they will work along — I know banks are working along. If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that's what happens in a time like this, they know the people, they've been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery stores – and I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant."
Watch the comments above from Ross, Trump, Hassett and others or click here.