Democrats shifted their focus to unpaid government workers Wednesday as a partial government shutdown entered its 19th day with no signs of an impasse over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall breaking.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will head to the White House in the afternoon for their third face to face meeting with Trump about the funding stalemate. After a Tuesday night Oval Office address in which the president described a “humanitarian crisis” and used grisly murder stories to call for tougher immigration restrictions, the Democratic leaders countered by highlighting the roughly 800,000 U.S. employees who face missing paychecks due to the closure.
“[Trump] has chosen a wall over workers,” Pelosi said as she and Schumer stood in front of furloughed employees Wednesday. “The president needs to end his senseless shutdown and reopen the government.”
Their remarks came as the partial shutdown neared the end of its third week and no resolution appeared to take shape. Workers from Transportation Security Administration screeners to border patrol agents will start to miss paychecks Friday if lawmakers cannot reopen the nine unfunded federal departments.
Trump has pushed for more than $5 billion to fund the proposed wall. Before pieces of the government closed last month, he said he would “take the mantle” if funding lapsed.
House Democrats have passed legislation to temporarily reopen the government without wall money. The GOP-held Senate has pledged not to take up the spending bills as Trump threatens to veto them. Both Pelosi and Schumer again urged the Senate to pass the measures on Wednesday.
Trump, for his part, has downplayed the shutdown’s effect on government workers. On Sunday, the former real estate mogul claimed he “can relate” to federal employees who may not be able to pay bills. He said Wednesday that the workers “are terrific patriots and a lot of them agree with what I’m doing.”
“So many of those people are saying, ‘It’s so hard for me, it’s very hard for my family, but Mr. President, you’re doing the right thing,'” Trump claimed.
A top union representative who spoke at an event with Pelosi and Schumer on Wednesday disagreed. U.S. employees are “absolutely, completely and without reservation opposed to this government shutdown lockout,” said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“We oppose being held hostage. We oppose being collateral damage. We oppose the use of extortion instead of reasoned debate,” said Cox, who leads the largest union representing federal workers.
After Trump’s address and a response from Pelosi and Schumer on Tuesday night, neither Republicans nor Democrats appeared willing to give ground. It is unclear if the latest round of talks Wednesday afternoon among Trump and bipartisan congressional leaders can yield any progress.
Trump teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency at the border to build the wall — which he ultimately did not do Tuesday. The president said Wednesday that the “threshold” for him taking that step is failure to reach a border security deal with lawmakers.
On Wednesday, Schumer said Trump’s “fear mongering isn’t working.”
“In no way did the president’s speech last night make a persuasive or even new case for an exorbitantly expensive border wall,” the New York Democrat said.
Democrats have refused to approve any money for the wall. They have said they will pass funding for border security technology or agents, but not the barrier as Trump describes it.
Both Senate and House Republican leaders have backed Trump. On Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “I cannot think of a legitimate argument why anyone would not support the wall as part of a multi-layered border security issue.”
Before his meeting with bipartisan leaders Wednesday, Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans. As he walked to the meeting, the president said he has seen “tremendous Republican support” for his push for a border wall.
But some in Senate GOP caucus have wavered from the president’s stance. Republican senators such as Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have shown openness to passing bills to fund agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security while the wall impasse drags on.
Both Gardner and Collins face re-election in 2020 in states Trump lost. While polling has shown Americans blame Trump for the shutdown more than congressional Republicans, a prolonged spat risks creating more problems for GOP lawmakers.
Asked as he entered the Capitol how long he would let the shutdown last to secure money for the barrier, Trump answered: “Whatever it takes.”
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