As hundreds of thousands of federal employees spend their holidays wondering when they will next report to work and if they will miss a paycheck, President Trump has claimed those workers have reached out to him with a special message: we don’t mind.
About 350,000 federal employees are currently on furlough, sent home without pay (at least for now) after funding expired at dozens of agencies on Friday night. With the government already scheduled for closure on Monday and Tuesday, most of those workers just received their formal furlough notices Wednesday morning. About 500,000 additional employees are still reporting to work, but will only get paid once the government reopens.
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According to Trump, however, federal workers impacted by the partial shutdown think all of that is a small price to pay because they support the president’s push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Many of those workers have said to me, communicated, stay out until you get the funding for the wall,” Trump told reporters on Christmas day. “These federal workers want the wall.”
Asked if he had a message for federal employees affected by the shutdown, Trump suggested they were on his side.
“Well, I think they understand what’s happening,” the president said. “They want border security.” He added he would “rather not be doing shutdowns.” Earlier this month, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over border security.
Trump was not the first politician to suggest federal employees do not warrant sympathy while their agencies are shuttered. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said facing furloughs and working without pay is “actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position." Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said government workers were not “sacrosanct” and they were only experiencing what private sector employees often face.
Federal workforce advocates were quick to denounce those comments, calling them “absurd” and failing to recognize the real impacts a shutdown has. Federal employees themselves have taken to social media en masse to share their stories.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said last week as a shutdown appeared imminent that Republicans failed to see civil servants as real people.
“‘They’re just federal employees,’ that’s all the Republicans think," Durbin said. “I just don’t see it that way. It’s totally unnecessary. And to think they’re going to send TSA employees and [Homeland Security Department] employees into law enforcement protection and say, ‘Someday you’ll get paid,’ over Christmas? It’s unnecessary and it’s insulting to these men and women.”