On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump surprised the nation in an unexpected decision to end the longest U.S. government shutdown in history for a period of three weeks while continuing to debate border security. If an agreement on a border security plan is not reached by Feb. 15, however, Trump promised to either shut down the government again or declare a national emergency in an attempt to force the wall budget through a Democratic-majority Congress. During the following three weeks, aside from the continuing negotiations about the wall, the 800,000 federal workers who had been out of pay will be compensated.
The announcement is good news for the federal workers who endured a month of missed paychecks and for the citizens of the U.S. who witnessed a slowdown of productivity in matters that required government workers, such as airport security and food inspections. Despite the fact that the government is now reopened and President Trump did guarantee back pay for the workers, the reason behind this shutdown was still wildly hypocritical given the risks to homeland security that had occurred as a result of laying off hundreds of thousands of government workers for an unnecessarily long amount of time. Furthermore, Trump’s continued insistence to construct a wall is now starting to look like a last resort to save face and deliver on his campaign promise; yet he’s also now cornered with backlash from those who opposed this wall from the start and his disappointed supporters who believe he’s gone soft.
It’s commendable that the Democrats have been able to stay firm on their stance against giving Trump his wall budget, but the attention needs to be expanded past the scope of the federal workers and the resistance of Trump’s budgetary demands. The driving argument behind those who opposed the longevity of the shutdown cited the blank paychecks and penny-pinching strategies many U.S. federal workers had to endure. #ShutdownStories began trending on Twitter as many workers told of their financial difficulties thanks to the 35-day shutdown. Sen. Kamala Harris of California shared a few of these stories on her Twitter, adding that these financial crises shouldn’t be happening. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made efforts to lend a hand to impacted government workers in Washington D.C. Pelosi also gave a rebuttal to Trump’s address of the government shutdown, to which she stated that it is generally agreed upon that securing borders can come in ways that don’t include a wall (such as new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs).
Despite well-intended efforts to give the federal workers a platform in order to express their stories to the rest of the country, many politicians seem to have a blind spot in addressing this shutdown. There’s been a lack of media coverage or a general hush when it comes down to shining a spotlight on the blatant hypocrisy President Trump has expressed in his reasoning behind prolonging the government shutdown. Since when did putting the security of the American people first involve forcing them to work without pay?
It’s unfortunately essential for several key employees to continue working even without pay, given that if they were to simply not show up, all kinds of crises would occur. Ironically enough, the Coast Guard, an agency whose workers were called in to work without pay, is responsible for ensuring border security. Their job is not limited to intercepting smuggled drugs, a talking point that Trump uses frequently in his argument for a wall; on the contrary drugs are most commonly smuggled through legal ports of entry. Therefore, hindering the efficacy of the Coast Guard by reducing its funding jeopardizes the security that Trump claims to support. Another essential security branch that was slowed down due to a lack of funding includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); some operations that the FBI had been rendered unable to do included issuing grand jury subpoenas and continued investigations into groups such as MS-13, a gang that Trump also has commonly brought up as an imminent problem in our country.
Aside from jeopardizing the effectiveness of vital government operations like these by freezing their pay and funding, the average government worker also felt the pressure of being furloughed indefinitely. Stories that made rounds in the media told of those who missed mortgage payments, experienced lowered credit ratings and even risked losing their insurance. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader also brought up the impact small businesses and farmers have felt as a result of being denied the loans they need. It’s absurd that the security and wellbeing Trump claims to want so desperately for this country has at the same time been compromised via nonexistent paychecks; it’s even more ludicrous that he’s willing to put thousands of financial livelihoods at risk again if he doesn’t get what he wants.
Despite the many bipartisan proposals for border security that are agreed upon such as more immigration judges, more funding towards infrastructure at ports of entry and more investment in technologies to detect weapons and drugs, the wall still stands as an nonnegotiable factor. Because of this continued impasse, federal workers are essentially being held hostage by the government. Most border security proposals are generally agreed on; thus, shutting down the government over one contentious policy seems unnecessary and counterproductive. It’s starting to become obvious that this seems to be Trump’s endgame in order to save face in front of his supporters given all the other things he promised but failed to deliver on.
Instances of Trump attempting to appease his supporters include his continued claims that Mexico is paying for the wall and his assertion that “we’ve done a lot of wall already.” Both of these statements have proven to be false, given that there is no set agreement on Mexico funding the wall. Since President Trump took office, parts of the barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border have been renovated, but contrary to his announcement that the administration has built a “brand new wall in San Diego,” Customs and Border Protection has stated that there are no plans for extending the barriers that are already there. Aside from that, to this day, there have been zero miles added so far to the existing barriers. Pushing for this project is only appealing to his base that he knows is starting to slip away, especially after this last week where he unexpectedly reopened the government sans wall.
That being said, Trump most definitely shot himself in the foot with this move, further driving up disapproval from those who already opposed the wall from the start and now from several pro-wall conservatives who are now upset at the fact that Trump has caved with no budget in sight for the wall. The newest group to become disillusioned isn’t too large, since only 35 percent of those surveyed in a Reuters poll expressed approval for putting the wall in a congressional spending bill. The idea of fighting tooth and nail for this wall is not only terribly unpopular now, but his own base has started turning against him for believing he softened up to the House. However, there are still those who weren’t phased by the lengthy shutdown. Locals from districts that Trump won in his presidency cheered on the shutdown, stating that they were finally getting the sense of “less government” that their political party identifies with. Needless to say, perhaps there always will be a group of individuals who will give Trump a free pass on anything he does, but what good is there in President Trump continuing to appeal to this particular group rather than serving the majority of the American people?
Despite the fact that the government is now reopened and federal workers can sleep a little better at night knowing they are to be paid soon, Trump has still refused to admit defeat, vowing once again that the wall would be built. The future of this specific border security project is unforeseeable, but it’s clear that no matter what the outcome, Trump has boxed himself into a corner, faced with perhaps the biggest challenge to his legitimacy as president.