Hours before President Trump met with Republican Senators for lunch on Wednesday to shore up support for a southern border wall, House Democrats from the Washington region joined federal union leaders in a taunting press conference decrying the government shutdown.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the current partial appropriations lapse “a vegetative, stupid, uncalled for, people-affecting process.”
Hoyer slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for deferring to President Trump and declining to take up four funding bills making their way through the House that would open up agencies (bills that cleared the Senate last month nearly unanimously). Hoyer noted that back in August 2014, McConnell said, “I’m the guy who gets us out of shutdowns.”
Bemoaning the shutdown’s effect of freezing government services from processing tax refunds and home purchase documentation to flood insurance, Hoyer asked Trump: “Mr. President, who’s going to want to work for a federal government if they think reasonably that they will be told, ‘You’re going to work, but by the way, we’re not paying you.’ ”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., deployed the word “madness” to describe the effects on law enforcement operations, national parks, the environment and vehicular safety. “The president made it clear he believes it’s good to keep the government shut down, but there’s no such thing,” he said. “He’s using federal employees as pawns in the biggest game. But it is not a game,” Connolly said.
He slammed Trump’s Tuesday night primetime speech warning Americans of a “border crisis” as filled with the most “racist, bigoted, nationalist, xenophobic rhetoric we’ve heard on TV in this most sordid use of the Oval Office in history.”
Asked about prospects for passing bills to open the government without money for a wall with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities, Connolly said that seven Republicans who voted on clean appropriations bills last month—along with five Senators who’ve expressed a willingness—is the “tip of the iceberg. I think it’s going to grow,” he added, before joking that the still-resisting Senate Majority Leader McConnell has “his face on milk cartons all over America.”
Other speakers dramatized painful details as the first missed payday for federal employees approaches on Jan. 11, citing private companies that have been offering piecework, federal employees taking jobs as Uber drivers, and small business contractors laying the groundwork for layoffs.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who recently reintroduced her bill to assure retroactive pay for contractor employees who work at agencies in janitorial or food service jobs, stressed that the Washington-area delegation in a sense represents all House members because “everyone has constituents who are out of work or on furlough” among the 800,000 affected.
Trump in his TV speech “tried to convince Americans that the shutdown is not only worth it but necessary, and he failed,” Norton added. “The American people already want to open their government.”
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said Republicans and Democrats could reach a compromise if the president would sign the bills. He thanked federal employees who are “sitting at home but want to do their jobs for toughening it out.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., whom other lawmakers thanked for introducing his bill to guarantee furloughed workers back pay, said his phones have been “ringing off the hook” with calls from federal employees who are “getting crushed” and who “overwhelmingly oppose the shutdown.” Citing impacted air traffic controllers and employees at the FBI, State Department and Transportation Security Administration, Beyer said, “The crisis is not the lack of a border wall, but the Trump shutdown.” He mocked Trump for wanting to “waste money on a 5th century wall that can be overcome with a ladder.”
Asked about Trump’s threat to declare a state of emergency to build the wall, Beyer said the issue “would get tied up in the courts,” but that the shutdown still couldn’t end until Trump signs the bills.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said he’s heard from constituents over the last 24 hours who are “100 percent against the shutdown” and the “scandalous situation President Trump has left us in.” Many furloughed federal workers are taking money out of retirement and college funds, said Raskin, who has organized a rally for Wednesday night in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Washington suburb. “Will Donald Trump get the government to pay the 10 percent penalty” for such early withdrawals?
Freshman Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., said many “who embark on a career in public service know they make less money than in the private sector.” But she has heard from hundreds of constituents who are returning Christmas presents and taking second jobs.
Rep. David Trone, D-Md., said, “In 1961, communists built the Berlin Wall. It was not a good idea then, and it is not a good idea now. Everyone agrees that border security is paramount,” he added. “Democrats are committed to it, but it should be based on technology. Holding the government hostage is not the most humanistic thing to do.”
Everett Kelley, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, “President Trump’s job is to represent the whole country. Real families . . . are being harmed, and we need to hold officials accountable,” he said. “Who wants to sign up to come to government if you’re not going to get paid?” he asked. Citing an average member wage of $500 a week, Kelley said, they “can apply for food stamps, but they don’t want a handout. We want to get to work, to get the government open, but we can’t afford to do it for free.”
Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said furloughed employees “can’t sustain the loss of income for weeks or months.” While President Trump suggested people will “make adjustments,” Erwin questioned how. “By not filling prescriptions? Not paying bills and ruin credit ratings? Turning off the heat in mid-winter? Don’t tell us you can relate. It’s ruining people’s lives.”
Rep. Connolly, asked whether he would join the group of lawmakers who have declined to take their own salaries during the shutdown, said, “It’s an individual decision, but frankly a distraction. We’re not in the business of adding to the ranks of those not being paid,” he said. “We’re in the business of getting everyone paid.”