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Bill on federal workers' back pay in shutdown heads to Trump

Friday, January 11, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is edging closer to declaring a national emergency to pay for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall as pressure mounts to end the three-week impasse that has closed parts of the government and deprived hundreds of thousands of workers of their salaries.

Some 800,000 federal employees, more than half still on the job, missed their first paycheck today under a stoppage that neared a record for the longest government shutdown. With the closure's growing impact on the economy, national parks and food inspections, some Republicans are becoming uncomfortable with Trump's demands.

Lawmakers tried to reassure federal employees today Congress was aware of the financial hardship they are enduring. By a vote of 411-7, the House passed a bill requiring that all government workers receive retroactive pay after the partial shutdown ends. The Senate approved the bill unanimously Thursday. The president is expected to sign the legislation.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas, and the Rio Grande on Thursday to highlight what he calls a crisis of drugs and crime along the border. He said that "if for any reason we don't get this going" – an agreement with House Democrats who have refused to approve the $5.7 billion he demands for the wall – "I will declare a national emergency."

Trump was consulting with White House lawyers and others about using emergency powers to take action on his own, and over the objections of Congress, to construct the wall. Bypassing Congress' constitutional control of the nation's purse strings would lead to certain legal challenges and bipartisan charges of executive overreach. Trump said his lawyers had told him the action would withstand legal scrutiny "100 percent."

The wall was the central promise of Trump's winning campaign in 2016. Supporters have tried to convince him that an emergency declaration is the best option to end the shutdown and would give him political cover to reopen the government without appearing to be caving on his pledge. Trump, they argue, could tell backers that he was doing all he could to fight for the wall, even if his order were held up or blocked in court.

But not everyone in the administration is on board.

Senior aide Jared Kushner, who traveled with the president to Texas, is among those urging caution on the declaration, according to a person familiar with Kushner's thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Trump is growing more frustrated as the shutdown drags on and is complaining that his aides are not offering him an exit strategy.