Congressional lawmakers see no clear end in sight to the nation’s partial government shutdown, as thousands of federal workers have been furloughed amid a deep divide over President Trump’s proposed border wall.
The White House has demanded that Congress approve $5 billion for constructing a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a request Democrats have rejected as wasteful.
About 25 percent of the federal government has been shut down amid the standoff, with roughly 800,000 federal workers nationwide expected to be affected. Employees classified as “essential” — including airport security, the military and those in other emergency service jobs — will continue to work, while about 350,000 federal employees are on furlough at home without pay, according to Government Executive, a publication about federal employees.
House members have been told there will be no votes on Thursday, meaning the partial shutdown will probably last until at least Friday. Many national parks across the country have also been closed, and the Internal Revenue Service planned to close taxpayer assistance lines, among other operations, weeks ahead of filing season.
The shutdown also began affecting the nation’s court system, as the Justice Department asked a federal judge to temporarily pause certain cases until the government provides funding for the department.
“Now that the holidays are behind us, the cold reality of the shutdown is going to start to hit,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who represents Northern Virginia, home to thousands of federal workers.
But neither side has hinted at softening its position. On Wednesday, shortly after arriving in Iraq for a surprise visit, Trump told reporters that he would be “going to the wall” for a visit before the State of the Union address at the end of January.
Asked how long the shutdown might last, Trump responded: “Whatever it takes. We need a wall. We need safety for our country. Even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border.”
A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats’ likely plan is to put a bill that funds the government, without money for Trump’s wall, on the floor on Jan. 3. That is the first day of the new session of Congress, when Democrats take control of the House.
Democrats have supported including an additional $1.3 billion in border security funding, at one point agreeing to an additional $1.6 billion during negotiations with congressional Republicans.
But congressional Democrats are insisting Trump will get nothing near the $5 billion he has demanded for the wall. Particularly concerning to congressional Democrats is the possibility of rewarding Trump for threatening to shut down the government over a policy demand, which they said could establish a dangerous precedent. During the Obama administration, Republicans in Congress also threatened to shut down the government over defunding Planned Parenthood and undermining the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m very concerned that you’re holding the federal government hostage for your latest whim — that’s a widespread feeling, and many Republicans privately share that concern,” Connolly said.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a conservative leader in the House who met with Trump on Saturday, said the president has encouraged congressional Republicans to negotiate with Democrats on “finding some kind of path forward.” But Meadows said he also sees “no evidence” Democrats are about to budge.
“If Democrats believe that this president is going to yield on this particular issue, they are misreading him,” Meadows told CNN. “I can tell you his resolve is very firm.”
The urgency to complete a deal may be amplified by volatility in the stock market, which suffered the worst decline on Christmas Eve in history and has entered bear market territory in some sectors. The Dow Jones industrial average was up more than 1,000 points Wednesday as markets recovered from the sharp decline.
Many federal workers are also reporting for work not knowing if they will be paid. Recent shutdowns have ended with funding bills that include back pay for furloughed federal employees, but there is no guarantee Congress will continue to do so.
Maria Ortega, 44, who lives near San Diego and is the wife of a Department of Homeland Security worker, said that she and her husband have tried to talk with their two children about the shutdown without scaring them.
“We don’t want to unnecessarily burden them, but they are aware that the government is shut down and Daddy’s paycheck isn’t coming,” said Ortega, who added that her family does not live paycheck to paycheck but said she has already reconsidered things like getting her car washed and whether to buy coffee in the morning. “The irony is that the shutdown started over funding for the wall, and it’s those workers who are at the border who are most affected, who aren’t being paid.”
Other federal workers are starting to feel the pinch. Paul Greenberg, a NASA research scientist and physicist at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, is working on a project funded by Homeland Security to build sensor packages that first responders and firefighters can wear to monitor their exposure to airborne substances, as well as a telescope to send data back from deep space. The telescope is supposed to be in orbit in 2020.
“You can’t build something someone’s never built before sitting on your a-- doing nothing,” he said. “Everything just stops.”
“We’re told we’re worthless parasites,” said Greenberg, who has spent 30 years at NASA and is a congressional liaison for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “I’ll tell you, retirement’s looking more attractive all the time.”
But Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said Democrats should back up votes they had taken in previous years to beef up border security. NumbersUSA, which advocates restricting immigration, has generated more than 10,000 calls to the White House and members of Congress as part of the shutdown fight.
“Democrats can come out and say they supported billions for fencing, but when push comes to shove, and this is something that will get passed into law, they suddenly back off,” Chmielenski said.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.