WASHINGTON — The federal shutdown dragged into Day 19 on Wednesday, leaving tens of thousands of affected Virginia residents unsure about when they’ll return to work or get their next paycheck.
Partisan warfare continued in Washington the day after President Donald Trump’s primetime speech on what he called a “humanitarian and security crisis” along the southern U.S. border. His televised plea for $5.7 billion for a physical barrier did nothing to budge his Democratic opponents in Congress, who argue that the House of Representatives has already passed a bi-partisan border security measure and say Trump is manufacturing the crisis.
Virginia Democrats assembled outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday with their colleagues from Maryland and Washington, D.C., and with union leaders who represent federal workers. The lawmakers accused Trump of using government employees as leverage in the protracted political battle.
“Last night, President Trump gave a speech from the Oval Office and he talked about a crisis. There is a crisis, but it’s not the lack of a wall. Trump’s government shutdown is a crisis,” said Virginia U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th).
Beyer, whose Northern Virginia district is home to about 80,000 federal workers — many of whom have been affected by the partial government shutdown — said his constituents are getting “crushed” and assailed Trump for not mentioning federal workers during his speech.
The phones in Beyer’s Washington and Alexandria offices have been ringing off the hook, he said, with calls from Virginians “overwhelmingly opposing” the shutdown.
“We heard from a couple — both federal employees, both disabled veterans — who are having to make upcoming tuition payments for their children who go to Virginia colleges,” Beyer said. “I’ve heard from a single mother saying they don’t know where the money is going to come from to feed their children.”
Overall, Virginia is home to 34,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the federal Office of Personnel Management. Nationwide, about 800,000 employees have been affected.
Those include employees who have been furloughed, in addition to those who are considered “essential” and are working but not getting paid. After previous government shutdowns, workers were paid retroactively after the government reopened, but it isn’t a given.
Beyer and other Virginia lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill that would give back pay to impacted employees. Virginia U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman, R-1st, is a co-sponsor, in addition to Democratic Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Gerald Connolly, Donald McEachin, Abigail Spanberger and Bobby Scott.
Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are co-sponsoring similar bipartisan legislation in the Senate.
Wexton, a freshman Democrat whose Northern Virginia district is also home to a sizeable chunk of the federal workforce, said she’s heard from “hundreds of constituents who are facing financial trouble, who had to return Christmas presents, who are picking up second jobs, who feel like their government and the nation they pledged their careers to serve has betrayed them.”
She pointed to a married couple where both people had been furloughed from the Department of Homeland Security.
“They don’t know how they’re going to pay their mortgage next month, or even afford their son’s preschool,” Wexton said. “But beyond the financial hardships that the family is facing, beyond the added stress and uncertainty, the thing that they took most to heart through this whole process was the feeling that their work didn’t matter.”
Wexton added: “Our federal workers and contractors deserve better than to be used as pawns in the president’s political game. I call on the president to end this shutdown immediately.”
Trump met with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday. He told reporters after the talk that the GOP is “totally unified” in the shutdown, the Associated Press reported. Trump said there was “no discussion about anything other than solidarity.”
Still, some GOP lawmakers have expressed willingness this week to reopen parts of government impacted by the shutdown even if they haven’t settled the fight over border security, CNN reported.
Connolly, D-11th, said Wednesday that while congressional Democrats are probably a “long way from a veto-proof” majority on getting Republican support to re-open the government without funding for a barrier, he expects additional GOP lawmakers to break with their party.
“Seven Republicans joined us last week in voting to reopen the government here in the House,” he said. “We believe their numbers are the tip of the iceberg; we believe there’ll be a lot more. We’ve already seen four or five Republicans in the Senate indicate their desire, their support for our position: reopen the government and then have negotiations.”
Some members of Congress, including several from Virginia’s delegation, have declined to receive paychecks during the government shutdown. Among them is new Virginia Congressman Denver Riggleman, R-5th, who told The Roanoke Times he is donating his check to a local fire department during the shutdown.
Both Riggleman and Cline support a border barrier and additional border security, per the Roanoke Times.
“At some point, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are going to have to realize that they have to provide some funding for a wall,” Cline told a Roanoke television station earlier this month. “My constituents want to see a wall.”
Trump’s meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer D-N.Y., at the White House on Wednesday didn’t yield a compromise.
In a tweet, Trump called it a “total waste of time.” The president wrote, “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”