President tweets as shutdown sets record
WASHINGTON» As the partial government shutdown slipped into the record books Saturday as the longest ever, members of Congress were out of town, no negotiations were scheduled and President Donald Trump tweeted into that void.
Trump did not tip his hand on whether he will move ahead with an emergency declaration that could break the impasse, free up money for his wall without congressional approval and kick off legal challenges and a political storm over the use of that extraordinary step. A day earlier, he said he was not ready to do it “right now.”
Lawmakers are due back in Washington from their states and congressional districts in the new week.
Trump fired off a series of tweets pushing back against the notion that he doesn’t have a strategy to end what became the longest government shutdown in U.S. history when it entered its 22nd day Saturday. “Elections have consequences!” he declared, meaning the 2016 election in which “I promised safety and security” and, as part of that, a U.s.-mexico border wall.
But there was another election, in November, and the consequence of that is Democrats now control the House and they refuse to give Trump money for a wall.
Trump threatened anew that the shutdown could continue indefinitely.
He says he will sign legislation that has been passed by Congress to provide back pay for some 800,000 federal workers who aren’t being paid during the shutdown. Paychecks were due Friday, but many workers received stubs with zeros.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling Saturday in Abu Dhabi, claimed that morale is good among U.S. diplomats even as many work without pay.
“We’re doing our best to make sure it doesn’t impact our diplomacy,” he said.
Almost half the State Department employees in the U.S. and about one-quarter abroad have been furloughed during the shutdown. With the exception of certain local employees overseas, the rest are working without pay, such as those tasked with supporting Pompeo’s trip, which has thus far taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain, with additional stops to come.
An emergency declaration by Trump could break the stalemate by letting him use existing, unspent money to build the U.s.-mexico border wall, without needing congressional approval. Democrats oppose that step but may be unable to stop it. Many Republicans are wary, too.
Nevertheless the administration has accelerated planning for it. Officials explored diverting money from a range of accounts,
WASHINGTON» The government shutdown is wreaking havoc on many Americans: Hundreds of thousands of federal employees don’t know when they will see their next paycheck, and lowincome people who rely on the federal safety net worry about whether they will make ends meet should the stalemate in Washington last another month.
But if you’re a sportsman looking to hunt game, a gas company planning to drill offshore or a taxpayer awaiting your refund, you’re in luck: This shutdown won’t affect your plans.
All administrations get some leeway to choose which services to freeze and which to maintain when a budget standoff in Washington forces some agencies to shutter. But in the selective reopening of offices, experts say they see a willingness to cut corners, scrap prior plans and wade into legally dubious territory to mitigate the pain. Some noted the choices seem targeted at shielding the Republican-leaning voters whom Trump and his party need to stick with them.
The cumulative effect is a government shutdown — now officially the longest in U.S. history — that some Americans may find financially destabilizing and others may hardly notice.
Russell T. Vought, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the overarching message from Trump has been “to make this shutdown as painless as possible, consistent with the law.”
“We have built on past efforts within this administration not to have the shutdown be used to be weaponized against the American people,” he said.
Others say such a strategy suggests a lack of urgency and a willingness to let the political impasse in Washington drag on in- definitely.
“The strategy seems to be to keep the shutdown in place, not worry about the effect on employees and furloughed people and contractors, but where the public might be annoyed, give a little,” said Alice Rivlin, who led OMB during the 21-day shutdown in 1996, the previous record holder for the longest in history.
That’s a clear difference between then and now, Rivlin said.
“We weren’t trying to make it better. We were trying to emphasize the pain so it would be over,” she said. “We wanted it to end. I’m not convinced the Trump administration does.”
The Trump administration last week announced that the IRS will issue tax refunds during the shutdown, circumventing a 2011 decision barring the agency from distributing refunds until the Treasury Department is funded. The National Treasury Employees Union filed a lawsuit, arguing that its workers are being unconstitutionally forced to return to work without pay.
Some agencies are finding creative ways to fund services they want to restore.
The administration has emphasized continued use of public lands in general, and particularly for hunters and oil and gas developers, angering environmental groups. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, using funds left over from 2018, last week announced it will direct dozens of wildlife refuges to return staffers to work, ensuring planned activities on those lands, including organized hunts, continue.
Barbara Wainman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said most refuges have remained accessible to hunters during the shutdown, and the decision to staff them was made based on three criteria: resource management, high visitation and previously scheduled programming, which includes organized hunts and school field trips. Wainman said 17 of the 38 refuges have scheduled hunts that would have been canceled without the restaffing effort.
Trump has refused to sign spending bills for nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments until Congress approves his request for $5.7 billion in funding to build a wall along the U.s.-mexico border. Democrats have refused.