About 800,000 Federal Employees Still Without Pay As Government Shutdown Continues

Jan 7, 2019
Originally published on January 7, 2019 7:12 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For those counting, we are on Day 17 of the partial government shutdown. About 800,000 federal employees are still going without pay, and there is no end in sight.

President Trump says he'll deliver an Oval Office address tomorrow night to explain why he's continuing to demand $5.7 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He plans to visit that border Thursday to talk about security issues with local officials there.

NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow's here in the studio. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: OK, so over the weekend, there were some talks between Vice President Mike Pence and congressional staff. Any common ground come out of that?

DETROW: Those talks boiled down to this - Vice President Pence sticking to the insistence on $5.7 billion and Democrats saying, nope, they're not going to give that money. They did not - so no real progress.

In some letters to top lawmakers, the White House also asked for $100 million increase to hire more border patrol agents and $800 million in additional funding to add 52,000 beds to these detention centers.

SHAPIRO: Does that mean the White House number is going up, not down? As usual, in negotiations, the number would go down.

DETROW: I believe that's - yeah. Yeah, they're adding to this a little bit - things in addition to the wall.

Now, Democrats have said all along they're happy to have negotiations and be flexible on all these different fronts. They're for border security. It's just the idea of the wall itself. Nancy Pelosi is repeatedly calling this immoral lately. It's hard to budge on something you view as immoral.

SHAPIRO: So if there doesn't seem to be any progress on negotiations, this week might be the first time federal workers don't get a paycheck since the shutdown started. What happens next? Where does that leave things?

DETROW: We are seeing a ramped up public push from President Trump to make his case. So far, he has not really had a focused PR effort. We had a couple last-minute public appearances at the White House last week - no real sustained push or strategy here.

But the president says he's now going to do what is traditionally the most powerful tool that a president has, and that is the prime-time Oval Office address. This would be President Trump's first one. The question is, though, President Trump is someone who is constantly in the news, saturating coverage tweet by tweet, rally by rally. How much value does that Oval Office address have when the president is out in public so much every day, as President Trump is?

After that speech, he's going to the border, as you mentioned. And I think that makes it clear that the White House doesn't expect this to end anytime soon.

SHAPIRO: If that's what we're seeing from the White House, what about from the Democrats?

DETROW: They are getting a bit more aggressive as well and using some of the tools that Democrats have to increase leverage. Last week, you may remember, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill that would reopen the government without that wall funding. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, says he would not call that to a Senate vote because President Trump has said he would veto it.

So several Democratic senators have said, OK, if he's going to do that, Democrats should push back and block every bill from coming to a vote in the Senate until McConnell holds a vote on that funding. Democrats would have the power to do that because he needs 60 votes to advance a bill in the Senate.

Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, has not fully committed to that blanket strategy yet, but it's pretty notable. Top Democratic aides are telling us that Schumer has told Democrats he is going to vote against the next bill that comes up in the Senate tomorrow, and that's a bill that would provide defense support - national security support for Israel.

So Trump - rather, Schumer is indicating that he is going to start going along with this shutdown campaign in the Senate. So we could have a shutdown Senate in addition to a shutdown federal government.

SHAPIRO: Scott, I also want to ask you about this trial balloon threat option - call it what you will - that President Trump has raised. He says he may declare a national emergency in order to get the wall built, going around Congress. How likely does that look right now?

DETROW: Well, Vice President Pence spoke to reporters today at the White House. He said that option is still under consideration. Top Democrats, as you'd expect, have said that the president does have this authority, but they would challenge it right away. They would challenge this in court and question whether or not there is a true emergency, as President Trump would be declaring.

I'd say that's the key thing to listen for in this Oval Office speech tomorrow night - whether or not President Trump talks about that or even goes as far as to declare that emergency. So far in public appearances, the president has repeated the same arguments he's been making in favor of the wall, and they haven't seemed to convince any Democrats.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.