WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department on Thursday instructed all U.S. diplomats in Washington and elsewhere to return to work next week with pay, saying it had found money for their salaries at least temporarily despite the ongoing government shutdown.
In a notice to staff posted online and sent to employees, the department said it had found money to pay most of its employees beginning Sunday or Monday for their next pay period. They will not be paid for time worked since the shutdown began in December until the situation is resolved, said the notice, which was signed by William Todd, the deputy undersecretary of state for management.
It was not immediately clear where the money was found, but the department said it would use “existing funds as well as other available fiscal authorities to shift existing balances to restart payroll funding.”
Salaries cannot be guaranteed beyond the next pay period, which ends on Feb. 14, if the shutdown does not end by then, the department said. However, it said it would “review its balances and available legal authorities to see if other flexibilities may be available.”
The department said it was taking the step because it had become clear that the lapse in funding is harming essential diplomatic and national security objectives.
“While the department has done its best to address matters essential to achieving U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives during the ongoing lapse, it has become clear as the lapse has continued to historic lengths that we need our full team to address the myriad critical issues requiring U.S. leadership around the globe and to fulfill our commitments to the American people,” it said.
It added that the department’s leadership was “deeply concerned” about the financial hardships faced by its employees.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had raised eyebrows among the U.S. diplomatic corps last week when he proclaimed that morale at the State Department was “good” despite the shutdown and the fact that 40 percent of its employees in the U.S. and nearly 23 percent overseas had been furloughed and the rest were working without pay.
His comments also touched a nerve as he said he planned to go ahead with a previously scheduled conference of all U.S. ambassadors in Washington this week despite the funding constraints affecting employees.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan announced the return to work with pay instructions to that conference on Thursday and was greeted with two rounds of sustained applause, according to one diplomat who was present.
Outside the State Department other agencies continued to operate under the shutdown constraints.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says President Donald Trump has yet to respond to her request that he postpone his State of the Union address until the government is reopened so workers can be paid for providing security for the grand Washington tradition.
“We haven’t heard — very silent,” she told reporters on Thursday. “Let’s get a date when government is open. Let’s pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it’s OK not to pay people who do work. I don’t.”
The president’s planned Jan. 29 address became a potential casualty of the four-week partial government shutdown after the Democratic leader cited concerns about whether the hobbled government can provide adequate security. Republicans cast Pelosi’s move as a ploy to deny Trump the stage.
Trump declined to address the stalemate over the speech Thursday during a visit to the Pentagon, simply promising that the nation will have “powerful, strong border security.”
The uncertainty surrounding the annual address also underscored the unraveling of ceremonial norms and niceties in Trump’s Washington, amid the shutdown over the president’s demand for money to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. The impasse is draining the finances of hundreds of thousands of federal employees going without paychecks.
Pelosi reiterated she is more than willing to negotiate money for border security once the government is reopened, but she said Democrats remain opposed to Trump’s long-promised wall, one of his signature campaign promises.
“I’m not for a wall,” Pelosi said twice, mouthing the statement a third time for effect.
Pressure on Trump intensified, as lawmakers from both parties scrambled for solutions. The shutdown, already the longest ever, entered its 27th day Thursday.
While Trump’s own advisers said the shutdown was proving a greater drag on the economy than expected, Trump showed no signs of backing off a fight that he views as vital for his core supporters.