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Government Shutdown Watch
January 25, 2019

Sen. Susan Collins was one of six Republicans who voted for both unsuccessful Senate bills to re-open the government on Thursday, and CNN's Chris Cuomo asked her why Thursday night. "I voted yes on both because my top priority is to re-open government," she said. "I'm for any reasonable plan to bring it to an end."

Cuomo took that and went in a different direction. "Do you think the president is being reasonable, do you think he gets the pain that you just articulated, with his comments about, 'Eh, they'll make adjustments,'" and the tone-deaf remarks from his daughter-in-law and top aides? he asked. "Do you think he gets the pain that he's causing?" Collins started with tact, but conceded that a man born to great wealth probably had a limited understanding of just getting by. "There's plenty of blame to go around on this shutdown," she said, "but I'm not sure that the president fully understands what it's like to live paycheck-to-paycheck, as a lot of people in my state and elsewhere do."

Collins didn't bite when Cuomo asked why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hadn't brought up a bill to re-open the government sooner, saying "we've got people who are being intransigent on both sides of the aisle." Collins seemed hopeful about an effort by her and 15 other senators to craft their own bill to reopen the government, and when Cuomo asked about Trump's interference, she said "I think it would be more helpful if the president let Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell try to negotiate a plan." Cuomo asked, "Is McConnell allowed to negotiate, senator, by the way, or is he still just the president's proxy?" And Collins assured him that "he is clearly negotiating and wants this to end," adding that Trump's revived proposal to invoke emergency powers to build his wall "is very dubious from a constitutional perspective." Watch below. Peter Weber

January 23, 2019

The 32-day-old government shutdown is leaving marks, and not just on the 800,000 federal employees about to miss their second paycheck.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration sent out a letter requesting at least 250 TSA agents in 10 states to move to airports hit hard by employees calling in sick, CNN reports, travel and hotels paid for by Uncle Sam (eventually). So many USDA meat inspectors are calling in sick that the department briefly ordered them to bring doctor's notes for every sick day, and federal prisons are making secretaries and janitors patrol the halls and yards, The Washington Post reports. On Tuesday, the FBI Agents Association issued a report detailing shutdown-induced paralysis at the nation's top law enforcement agency.

Also on Tuesday, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz posted a video slamming the shutdown without directly assigning blame. "We're five plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," he told Coast Guard members, who work for the unfunded Department of Homeland Security. "You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden," and while the "outpouring of support from local communities across the nation" has been heartening, "ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members."

Schultz says this is the first time U.S. service members have not been paid during a shutdown, and he's telling Capitol Hill how unacceptable that is. The House has passed several bills to re-open the government and the Senate will consider two rival bills on Thursday. Peter Weber

January 23, 2019

Last week, the White House budget office took the extraordinary step of classifying Internal Revenue Service employees who process tax refunds as "essential" and recalling at least 30,000 to return to work without pay. But hundreds of those un-furloughed workers are staying home, requesting and receiving "hardship" exemptions that, under their union contract, allow them to skip work during a shutdown if they can't afford to work for free, The Washington Post reports.

"Trump has expressed an interest in making sure that tax refunds are paid out next month, believing that if they are delayed he could face major public backlash," the Post reports. But IRS workers who help process refunds and answer taxpayer questions are among the lowest-paid at the agency. "They are definitely angry that they're not getting paid, and maybe some of them are angry enough to express their anger this way," said Tony Reardon, president of the 150,000-member National Treasury Employees Union. "But these employees live paycheck to paycheck, and they can't scrape up the dollars to get to work or pay for child care."

If the number of IRS workers staying home rises, as union officials say they expect it will, refunds will likely be delayed. The IRS won't say how many workers are out on hardship leave, and IRS spokesman Matt Leas tells the Post that the agency is busy preparing for next week's start of tax filing season, "we are continuing our recall operations, and we continue to assess the situation at this time." You can read about some of the hardships at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

January 16, 2019

"The partial government shutdown is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated," The New York Times reports, citing new White House projections. "The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction." It has already sliced half a percentage point from economic growth and is tipped to get worse with each passing week.

White House officials are now cautioning Trump, "who has hitched his political success to the economy," about the economic toll of the shutdown, the Times reports. "Some people involved in the shutdown discussions in the White House have privately said they anticipate that Mr. Trump will grow anxious about the economic impact in the coming days, accelerating an end to the stalemate. Others close to the president believe Mr. Trump has leverage and are encouraging him to stand by his demands."

On CNN's New Day, contributor Frank Bruni and senior political analyst John Avlon were skeptical.

"This shutdown is a serious matter, but the question is: Who budges with this information?" Bruni asked. "I don't see Democrats moving, because they feel very confident in their position and they have every reason to," given public opinion, but "on the other side, for the president, every day this goes on it becomes an ever-more-fierce point of pride." "On the one hand, you've got the practical implications of the shutdown on real people, and the president's pride — these are not actually equivalent position," Avlon said. "And the president who's hitched his star on the economy is going to maybe pay attention to this report, because this is twice as bad as they expected." Peter Weber

January 16, 2019

On Tuesday, Day 25 of the government shutdown, Senate Republicans said they are mostly on board with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) hands-off approach to negotiating a way out of the impasse, House Democrats said they are united behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi's position that President Trump has to sign their legislation to reopen the government before they will discuss border security, and Trump tried to peel off some rank-and-file Democrats to join his push for a border wall paid for by American taxpayers. So far, he's gotten no takers.

The White House had invited a handful of centrist Democrats to the White House for a Tuesday afternoon lunch, but all of them turned him down, citing previous engagements or lack of interest in being used as pawns. Pelosi, who wasn't invited, told her Democratic colleagues Monday night that she had no problem with other Democrats attending, USA Today reports. "They can see what we've been dealing with," Pelosi joked to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "And they'll want to make a citizen's arrest."

After a House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday in which Pelosi reportedly urged Democrats to stick together, Hoyer told reporters: "Is anybody surprised that the president is trying to get votes wherever he can get votes? ... We are totally united. Totally." Trump has invited more rank-and-file Democrats, part of the bipartisan "Problem Solvers" caucus, to the White House on Wednesday, and it isn't clear how many will attend, if any.

No known discussions have taken place between Democratic congressional leaders and the White House since Trump abruptly walked out on the last meeting. Bipartisan groups of senators have been huddling, looking for an off-ramp to the longest shutdown in U.S. history, "but hopes are slim in the Senate that they can reach a solution that the president will endorse," Politico notes. Peter Weber

January 14, 2019

President Trump may have changed his mind about welcoming responsibility for shutting down part of the federal government over his proposed border wall, but Americans are still sticking him and his party with most of the blame, according to two polls released Sunday. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53 percent of respondents blamed Trump and the Republican Party for the shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, while 29 percent blamed Democrats and 13 percent blamed both sides. In a CNN/SSRS poll, 55 percent of American adults blamed Trump and the GOP, 32 percent blamed Democrats, and 9 percent blamed both sides equally.

Trump and the GOP "are losing the messaging war on the government shutdown," Politico reports, but only among Democrats, independents, and white voters without a college education. Almost 7 in 10 Republicans blame Democrats for the shutdown in the Washington Post/ABC poll, but GOP support for building a border wall has increased by 16 percentage points since last January, to 87 percent now from 71 percent a year ago. In the CNN poll, 8 in 10 Republicans back a wall. Overall, in the CNN poll, 56 percent of Americans oppose the wall and 39 percent support it; in the Post/ABC poll, 54 percent oppose the wall versus 42 percent who support it.

Trump's poll numbers have also taken a hit amid the shutdown, the CNN poll found. His approval rating remained steady at 37 percent, but his disapproval number rose 5 percentage points since December, to 57 percent. Much of that rise in disapproval came from whites without college degrees, among whom he is now underwater for the first time in a year, with 45 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. This group also blames Trump over Democrats for the shutdown, 45 percent to 39 percent.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted via phone Jan. 8-11 among 788 Americans nationwide, and its margin of sampling error is ±4.5 percentage points. The CNN/SSRS poll was conducted Jan. 10-11 among 848 adults nationwide, and its margin of sampling error is ±4.1 points. Peter Weber

January 7, 2019

The partial government shutdown over President Trump's proposed border wall hit 16 days on Sunday, making it the third longest shutdown on record, with no end in sight. Trump said Sunday that if Democrats don't agree to fund his wall of steel, he might declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval.

And that's not the only way his administration is trying to work around the shutdown:

  • On Saturday, the Interior Department authorized the National Park Service to use entrance fees to pay for trash pickup and other operations at unsupervised or understaffed national parks. Congressional Democrats suggested that's probably illegal.

  • Museums and monuments are closed in Washington, D.C., but the Trump administration found money to staff the Old Post Office tower with National Park Service rangers. The federal General Services Administration owns the 120-year-old clock tower, attached to the Trump International Hotel.

  • On Friday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sent letters to 1,500 landlords to try and prevent the evictions of thousands of tenants in a HUD program that agency officials hadn't realized expired on Jan. 1, The Washington Post reports.

  • Agriculture Department officials, also caught off guard by the shutdown, are working to prevent 38 million Americans from losing access to food programs, though USDA could begin telling states this week to prepare for a lapse in federal funds.

  • The Internal Revenue Service is looking for ways to legally process tax refund checks, after saying in December it didn't have that authority during a shutdown.

House Democrats plan to pass separate appropriations bills to fund individual shuttered departments, starting with the Treasury, to highlight that Trump and Senate Republicans are the roadblock to reopening the government. "The impression you get from the president is that he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress so the only voice that mattered was his own," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on CBS News' Sunday Morning. Peter Weber

January 2, 2019

President Trump will host congressional leaders Wednesday afternoon for a Homeland Security briefing on border security, the White House confirmed Tuesday night. This will be the first time Republicans and Democrats in Congress have sat down with Trump since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22. Democrats take control of the House on Thursday, and they plan to immediately pass two bills to reopen the government, neither of which provides more than $1.3 billion for border security. Trump is demanding $5 billion for a border wall, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said late Tuesday that the House Democratic bills are a "nonstarter" because each "fails to secure the border." Senate Republicans say they won't allow a vote on any bill that Trump doesn't support.

Still, it's hard to know what's public negotiating and what's the actual bottom line in the standoff talks. On Tuesday, Trump first tweeted that "without a Wall there can be no real Border Security," then suggested "Wall" may have some wiggle room after all: "Border Security and the Wall 'thing' and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let's make a deal?" Pelosi (D-Calif.), expected to be formally elected speaker on Thursday, seemed fine starting her second House speakership this way, tweeting back that Trump "has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown — just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic Majority committed to working #ForThePeople." Peter Weber

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