We can confirm that it's the 35th day of the government shutdown, formerly known as Friday. All eyes are on President Trump as 800,000 federal employees are set to today miss their second paycheck. The president is meeting with America's mayors followed by a roundtable with Hispanic pastors. Thanks for waking up with us. See you on Monday.
'AM I OUT OF TOUCH?': First, Lara Trump said furloughed government employees were feeling “a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.” Billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added he didn't “really quite understand why” federal employees were visiting food banks when they could take out low-interest loans instead. Larry Kudlow went on to call the shutdown "just a glitch.”
President Trump, attempting to clean up Ross's remarks, conceded: “Perhaps he should have said it differently.” But he argued that distressed workers can get a break from local stores in their communities. "Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else,” Trump said. “They know the people, they’ve been dealing with them for years, and they work along.”
“I love them,” Trump added. “Many of those people that are not getting paid are totally in favor of what we're doing.”
Paging Wilbur Ross: But barely a mile from the White House yesterday, Power Up found dozens of federal employees trickling in and out of chef José Andrés's makeshift food bank at the Navy Memorial, hugging brown paper shopping bags stuffed with soups and sandwiches. None of the out-of-work employees we spoke with, all of whom requested their names not be used, expressed support for Trump's $5.7 billion border wall, and they all shared worries about paying rent, dipping into savings and being able to afford groceries.
- A Department of Justice employee told us he had taken up dog walking to pay his rent after being furloughed. He was called back to work this week -- without pay -- so will start working for Postmates and UberEats after work to continue to try and pay the rent. "I can't afford to pay for groceries, though, so my co-workers and I have been scraping by on ramen," he told us.
- “We sign up to do a job to protect the American people but it's heartbreaking -- we're people too and everything is starting to pile up," a furloughed FBI employee told us. “Mortgage, car payments, student loans. So someone helping out with soup or a gift card for gas? Every little bit helps. And to have this soup and to not have to go home and scrape something together, and then to have it for lunch tomorrow, too? That means a lot. So it was a harsh comment for Mr. Ross to make.”
- “I have a family and my husband is a contractor so we haven't been working at all,” another FBI employee told Power Up. “My son is concerned, but we haven't been sharing the full amount to him about what our status is. Now that we're missing the next paycheck, we have to start to dig into retirement to start paying for stuff."
Inside Andrés's World Food Kitchen, Reps. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), along with Parkland high school activist David Hogg, volunteered behind the counter, wearing plastic gloves and handing out meals to workers:
- “He is an idiot,” Haaland said of Ross's comments. “I'm sorry. When you don't have money in the bank and you need food for your kids, you go to food banks. I know what it's like — as a single mom, I had to use food stamps at some points in my life. I've lived paycheck to paycheck ... It's terrible and disgraceful that he would say something like that and he should apologize to every federal worker who [has] now missed two paychecks. "
- “The president has no clue how people live . . . if he's drafting a national emergency plan for the wall, there is no empathy. As long as he has his cheeseburgers and Big Macs, I'm sure he's fine, but everyone else is suffering.," Haaland added.
- “Part of the frustration not just with Mr. Ross but with President Trump is that it seems like they don't know what it's like to walk in the shoes of everyday folks like the family I was raised in. People are hurting. Families are not able to pay bills or rent. Constituents are reaching out to our office to figure out how to pay for chemotherapy,” Lujan told us.
My colleagues Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta examined the tone-deafness on display from the administration and the president himself:
- “Trump has made no appearances at area food banks or other gathering places for furloughed workers, nor has he used the bully pulpit of his office to spotlight their basic struggles. He also has rarely mentioned workers in recent meetings. In a Jan. 15 call with surrogates, he blamed Democrats for them not being paid and made no suggestions for helping them, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post.”
- More: “In meetings with conservative leaders and economic advisers this week, [Trump] has worried that the furloughed workers could hurt his economic accomplishments, according to two people who have spoken with him. And at a recent Senate lunch, they said, he talked about the importance of making sure Coast Guard workers were paid — but that has not happened."
- White House officials disputed the characterization of Trump lacking empathy -- on background: "Trump’s aides are quick to defend the president and say he feels 'a great deal of compassion,' in the words of one White House adviser. This adviser said federal workers are part of 'every conversation and every consideration” inside the Oval Office," Rucker, Dawsey and Paletta report.
SOS: Republican senators on Capitol Hill hit a boiling point over lunch before two competing bills failed on the Senate floor to reopen the government, according to The Post's Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane.
- “'This is your fault,' Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at one point, according to two Republicans who attended the lunch and witnessed the exchange. “'Are you suggesting I’m enjoying this?' McConnell snapped back, according to the people who attended the lunch.”
- “Also during the lunch, McConnell made clear to [Vice President] Pence and others in the room that the shutdown was not his idea and was not working. According to Republicans familiar with his comments, he quoted a favorite saying that he often uses to express his displeasure with government shutdowns: 'There is no education in the second kick of a mule,'" Sullivan and Kane report.
After the bills to reopen the government tanked, there was a renewed sense of urgency to find a way out of the morass. My colleagues Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis report on two new plans -- from a group of bipartisan senators and House Democrats, respectively. But it's unlikely that Trump will accept either proposal:
- “A plan newly floated by a bipartisan group of senators to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiating over border security seemed to collapse almost as soon as it emerged, with the White House insisting Trump would accept such a proposal only if it included a 'down payment' on his wall — and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calling that a non-starter," The Post reports.
- “And the plan House Democrats are working to roll out, while expected to match or exceed the $5.7 billion Trump has put forward for his wall, will specifically exclude funding for it, instead directing the money toward technological improvements and other changes along the border — probably making it unacceptable to the president,” per Werner, Sullivan and DeBonis.
At least one Republican volunteered at World Central Kitchen this week (spoiler: it was not Trump):
Food brings us all together... Now we need our government to do the same! Thank you @HurdOnTheHill & @RepJoeKennedy for joining us at the table! 🤝🇺🇸 #ChefsForFeds @WCKitchen pic.twitter.com/fHDB1qpGQS— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) January 23, 2019
A DEBRIEF FROM @DPAQreport: The Post's Danielle Paquette has been running down the havoc the shutdown has created for furloughed workers over the past month. We checked in with her to get a better sense of how cash-poor workers are faring (listen up, Secretary Ross!). Paquette emails:
- "Last week I landed in Kansas City, where about 6,000 people work for the Internal Revenue Service. These employees are tasked with processing our tax refunds at the heart of filing season -- and several told me they cannot afford to fill up their gas tanks to go to work.
- One woman who helps U.S. troops stationed abroad complete their forms said she has stopped turning on the heat in her house. Her family now relies on blankets to stay warm, even as snow frosts the city. She tries to make one pot of chili last an entire week.
- Another worker in her sixties told me she has to walk 30 minutes through the slush just to catch a bus -- it's too expensive to drive.
- The local union leader there is working with a food bank to deliver meals to hungry employees. These aren’t highly paid workers. They don’t have deep cash reserves. One thing people keep telling me is: When IRS staffers can’t afford to get to work, the refunds many American expect as early as February are going to be significantly delayed. And that will sting far more than the federal workforce."
DEAR POWER UP FAM, thanks for writing us. We've included excerpts from readers' emails below and have protected their anonymity as requested. Please keep writing.
A pregnant furloughed federal employee and military veteran living in Washington writes that the shutdown "feels like a totally unnecessary betrayal, and knowing that I will eventually get back pay has done little to ease my anxiety. Not the feelings one wants to be wrestling with as they prepare to welcome a child.”
- “As a result, I am seriously reevaluating my career choices. Thanks to the uncertainty now injected into federal families’ lives, I am considering whether or not staying with my agency is even advisable . . . The uncertainty lies in not knowing how long this will last and fearing that such stalemates will continue to engulf our lives for the duration of this administration, or perhaps even longer thanks to the new political and societal lows we seem to be reaching. When I read the comments of the likes of Wilbur Ross and others who say they don’t quite get why federal employees are turning to external resources for help over taking low-interest loans, I get so angry. The point is this: they shouldn’t have to. And yeah, clearly, you don’t get it, Wilbur,” she writes.
Tara from Texas has concerns about morale: “My husband recently retired after 27 years in the Navy ... We we have multiple family members enrolled in several studies at [the National Institutes of Health] and, in addition to the burden on nonessential NIH employees not receiving a paycheck, it is extremely stressful from the patient side to navigate health issues. It greatly saddens me to see family, friends and co-workers affected once again, and I fear an erosion of the workforce dedicated to public service.”
Some other shutdown stories worth your time:
- Autistic teen wins a lifetime supply of peanut butter. He's giving jars away to furloughed workers. By The Post's Dana Hedgpeth
- Federal workers affected by partial shutdown to be billed for dental, vision coverage by The Post's Lisa Rein and Eric Yoder
- 'It's like the real-life Hunger Games in America:' Shutdown threatens HUD's protections for vulnerable by The Post's Tracy Jan
- Skilled federal workers face a critical shutdown choice: Stay or quit? by The Post's Danielle Paquette
- Far from home, unpaid Coast Guard members in Japan visit food pantry for essentials by Stars and Stripes's Seth Robson
A tweet shared by a manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Houston, Texas:
@JohnCornyn @SenTedCruz @RepBrianBabin This is our reality at the Johnson Space Center. We now have no custodial services while we work without pay to keep the International Space Station operating😡#EndTheShutdown pic.twitter.com/QjDDpJuxwo— Elizabeth Blome (@SpaceEliz) January 24, 2019
At the White House
MEANWHILE: NBC News's Laura Strickler, Ken Dilanian and Peter Alexander broke a consequential story that “Jared Kushner's application for a top-secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him — but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.”
- The key quote: “The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top-secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said. They said the number of rejections that were overruled was unprecedented — it had happened only once in the three years preceding Kline's arrival.”
- Concerns about Kushner?: " . . . his family's business, his foreign contacts, his foreign travel and meetings he had during the campaign, the sources said, declining to be more specific,” according to NBC News.
- Additional context: The Post's Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker first reported on problems with Kushner's security clearance last July.
Separately, the administration's "Migrant Protection Protocols” policy begins today. First reported by Reuters's Frank Jack Daniel and Mica Rosenberg, “The U.S. government will return the first group of migrants seeking asylum in the United States to the Mexican border city of Tijuana on Friday, U.S. and Mexican officials said, marking the start of a major policy shift by the Trump administration.”
First announced in December, the policy will “return non-Mexican migrants who cross the U.S. southern border back to wait in Mexico while their asylum requests are processed in U.S. immigration courts.”
“The plan is aimed at curbing the increasing number of families arriving mostly from Central America who say they fear returning to their home countries due to threats of violence. The Trump administration says many of the claims are not valid,” Reuters reports.
Vox's Dara Lind makes an important point: “While a DHS official confirmed some details of the plan to Vox, it’s still not clear how Mexico will deal with migrants while they wait for their court dates in the US."
P.S.: “The policy will almost certainly be subject to a federal lawsuit, as other Trump efforts to crack down on immigration without Congress have been. But it will go into effect (at least in San Ysidro) before any lawsuit is filed, and advocates tell Vox they may wait to see how it is being implemented before they sue to stop it,” Lind reports.
"COLD WAR STYLE SHOWDOWN”: As thousands continued to protest President Nicolás Maduro, leaving at least 12 reported dead, “The embattled government of Venezuela struck back against its opponents on Thursday, winning strong support from the country’s armed forces and the solid backing of Russia, which warned the United States not to intervene,” the New York Times's Ana Vanessa Herrero and Neil MacFarquhar report.
- “The events put [Maduro] at the center of a Cold War-style showdown between Russia, an ally that has shored up his government with billions of dollars, and the United States, which has denounced him as a corrupt autocrat with no legitimacy," they report. "The Trump administration pressed its case on Thursday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on all countries in the hemisphere to reject Mr. Maduro and “align themselves with democracy,” setting up a test of wills with the Kremlin."
- “Only a day before, Mr. Maduro’s political nemesis, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, seemed to have the momentum. During nationwide protests against the government, he proclaimed himself the country’s rightful president, earning endorsements from President Trump and several governments in the region. But on Thursday, it was Mr. Maduro’s turn to put Mr. Guaidó on defense. In a televised news conference, the leader of Venezuela’s armed forces declared loyalty to Mr. Maduro and said the opposition’s effort to replace him amounted to an attempted coup.”
The Post's Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung report the United States "refused to rule out military action or far reaching economic measures, including an oil embargo that would harm U.S. business" to support Guaidó's opposition government. But "it was unclear whether it has fully mapped out a strategy in the event that [Maduro] refuses to budge, serious violence erupts or foreign supporters of Maduro’s government — including Russia and Turkey — decide to intervene on his behalf."
- Hmmm: “Asked why the response to Maduro is different from that toward many other authoritarian leaders, Bolton rejected the premise. 'The fact is, Venezuela is in our hemisphere,' Bolton said. 'I think we have a special responsibility here, and I think the president feels very strongly about it.'”
Ideological differences on display among Democrats: