The effects of the government shutdown are about to get a lot more real.
Roughly 800,000 government workers will miss their first paychecks on Friday if the partial government shutdown continues, as expected, into its 21st day. One day longer, and the shutdown will become the longest in U.S. history on Saturday.
Furloughed workers from a variety of agencies won’t get their checks. TSA agents, Coast Guard members and other workers deemed essential who’ve been working through the shutdown won’t either. Low-wage federal contractors, already feeling the pinch, will get squeezed even harder.
Federal workers of all stripes are suffering — and don’t look likely to get relief anytime soon. President Trump has continued to refuse to budge from his demand that any government funding plan includes more than $5 billion for a border wall, the sudden demand that caused the shutdown in the first place. Democrats see no reason to give in to his demands.
“The president is treating these hard-working Americans as nothing short of leverage, pawns in his political gambit,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday morning. “Who’s going to make the next mortgage payment for them? Who’s going to put food on the table?”
The only potential way out right now would be for Trump to follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency at the border and attempt to claim federal funds earmarked for actual defense projects to start wall construction. That move would be legally questionable and almost certainly get stalled by a court fight, but could give Trump and Republicans enough cover to allow the government to reopen without admitting total defeat.
Trump suggested he’d “probably” do just that as he left for a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday.
“I have the absolute right to declare an emergency. I haven’t done it yet. I may do it if this doesn’t work out. I probably will do it. I would almost say definitely,” he told reporters as he left the White House.
The shutdown has led to alarm and fury from workers who likely won’t be getting their paychecks.
“We oppose being held hostage. We oppose being collateral damage. We oppose the use of extortion instead of reasoned debate,” Jay David Cox, the national head of the American Federation of Government Employees union, said at an event with congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday. “Do not hold our members’ paychecks hostage.”
Holly Salomido, the head of AFGE’s local that includes employees from the Department of Housing & Urban Development, warned at the event that “people are going to start missing their mortgage payments” because of the shutdown.
Trump, after abruptly storming out of a meeting with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, headed to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday in his latest effort to change public perceptions that the shutdown is mostly his fault. Polls suggest that the shutdown is hurting both his standing and congressional Republicans’.
But Trump was dismissive of government workers’ struggles.
“You know who has more human pain? The parents of people who had children killed by illegal immigrants that should have never been in the country,” he shot back when asked about the human pain being caused by the shutdown. “You know who has more human pain? The husband that lost the wife, or the wife that lost the husband. …That’s human pain. People that will be paid, but maybe a little bit later, those people, many of them, are on my side. They want to see border security.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accused Trump of a series of stunts to keep the shutdown going to draw attention from ongoing investigations into his administration.
“I think he loves the distraction that this is from his other problems,” she told reporters Thursday.