The billionaire president needs to get out more often.
If President Trump did, he might hear from more than groupies about deteriorating government services and harm to federal employees, including the 800,000 directly hit by his partial government shutdown — which will be 17 days old on Monday. Democrats are seeking to reverse Trump’s federal pay freeze with a general 1.9 percent raise and backpay for furloughed employees.
“You shouldn’t be enduring this,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said during a conference call Friday with federal union leaders and members. “This is truly a shutdown [that] makes no sense whatsoever. Government should be open, should never have closed.”
Hearing from rank-and-file feds might give Trump a better idea of the difficulties they are facing and a more realistic sense of their views on being locked out of their jobs and required to work with no guarantee of pay. Payday this Friday is in grave danger of disappearing.
Trump, who suggested the shutdown could last for months or even years, displayed woeful ignorance of the plight of federal workers at a news conference Friday, when he said they would encourage him to “keep going” with the shutdown, because a border wall “is far more important” than a fully operational government. He apparently got that impression from Border Patrol officers he met with Thursday. These officers, federal workforce outliers, endorsed his wall, just as they did his candidacy, even though they are also victims of his shutdown.
“It comes down to border security. … We are extremely grateful to President Trump, and we fully support what he is doing to take care of our nation’s borders,” Art Del Cueto, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said during a Thursday news conference with Trump.
Talk with federal employees and you’ll quickly learn that sentiment doesn’t reflect the views of many, including those in the council’s parent union, the American Federation of Government Employees. During the conference call Friday, AFGE’s policy director Jacqueline Simon made it clear that the council’s stance does not reflect that of the union.
“No matter what some of our members may think of Mr. Trump’s agenda on immigration and border security, we know that all of them, they need their paychecks and they can’t go to the grocery store, pay their rent or their child-care expenses with their love of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border,” Simon said. “We know our members and every single agency affected by the shutdown are terrified that when the day comes that there’s no paycheck on payday.”
If Trump talked to more federal employees, he would hear stories from people like Katherine Scheflen, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. She needs her check on time. “I am a single mother of two disabled children. I live paycheck to paycheck, as do many Americans,” she said. “It is not complicated — if I miss a paycheck, I cannot pay my mortgage and my other bills. It is as simple as that.”
Congress will probably provide backpay for furloughed federal employees such as Scheflen. But the likelihood of money in the future doesn’t pay bills due today. Backpay for low-wage contractors, like those who serve lunch in federal cafeterias, is less likely.
“I live pay check to pay check like nearly all of my coworkers, and I’m scared that with losing weeks of income and my healthcare benefits, one family medical emergency for myself, my children, or my grandchildren during Donald Trump’s shut down could make us homeless,” said Lisa Earle in a statement provided by Unite Here, which represents the Smithsonian worker. “It’s not fair that politicians playing games put me out of work, and it’s even worse that my coworkers and I may never get back pay for the shutdown when we’re just as impacted as all other federal workers.”
It’s ludicrous that Americans are denied federal services and workers like Scheflen and Earle suffer because Trump and Democrats differ over $4 billion for the border wall in a $4 trillion budget. Trump bogusly and repeatedly promised during his 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for his unpopular wall proposal.
Yet, while there is certainly an argument to be made for Democrats to meet Trump’s hostage demands, make no mistake, this is Trump’s shutdown, and increasingly that of congressional Republicans.
Trump’s intransigence demonstrates the hollowness of the Republican position. He rejects, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to consider, appropriation measures the Senate approved last month that would end the shutdown. The House voted for the legislation after Democrats took control last week, but McConnell won’t call for a necessary vote in the Senate.
The legislation would fund agencies indirectly related to border security. The Department of Homeland Security would receive temporary funding, providing a month for the discussions to continue.
It should be a no-brainer. McConnell called the House approval “a time-wasting act of political posturing,” even though the House followed the lead of his Republican-controlled Senate.
“We’re just going to have to work very hard,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on the call with Cardin, “to increase the pressure on Mitch McConnell to hold that vote.”
American voters will increase that pressure as government services continue to deteriorate.