The Shutdown - How We Got Here

Before the shutdown, bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate agreed to pass legislation to fully fund 8 of the 9 government departments that had not already been funded for 2019. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the remaining department which they agreed to fund until February 8 with a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide time for further negotiations on border issues. Trump stated that he would sign those bills.

But the DHS CR did not include any funds for the wall, and extreme right-wing commentators on Fox News like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh lashed out at Trump for being "gutless." Terrified of alienating their hard core white-nationalist base, Trump and Republican leaders appeased them by refusing to pass the legislation they had agreed to unless $5.6 billion for the wall was added to DHS. Democrats refused.

Since no appropriation bills were passed, funding for 9 government departments ran out of money on December 3rd. The following departments then partially shutdown:

  • Department of the Treasury (including IRS, etc)

  • Department of Agriculture (farm aid, nutrition, etc)

  • Homeland Security Department (ICE, CBP, & etc)

  • Department of the Interior (Nat'l parks, museums, etc) Department of State (foreign aid, diplomacy, etc)

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (housing & urban programs) Department of Transportation (FAA, public transit, etc) Department of Commerce (Census, patents, NOAA, etc) Department of Justice (FBI, Marshals, prisons, civil rights, etc)

Since funding for the border wall comes under the DHS appropriation and the other 8 departments have nothing to do with border security, Democrats asked Trump and the Republicans to fund those 8 unrelated departments. They refused because their strategy is to use the economic suffering of 800,000 people to coerce acceptance of their border wall and funding the unrelated departments would put most of the workers affected by the shutdown back on the job.

So now the 800,000 federal workers who are either not working or working without pay are economic hostages being held by Trump and Republican Party leaders to force funding for a border wall that a clear majority of Americans oppose (56%-45%). In past shutdowns, federal employees received back pay once the shutdown ended. But due to “outsourcing,” many of those affected are NOT employees but are rather contractors and temps who most likely will not receive any back pay. While some government contractors are high-paid consultants, most are low-wage temps living from paycheck to paycheck – security guards, janitors, data entry clerks, cafeteria workers, airport screeners, and so on.

On December 3rd, the Democratic-controlled House passed the two funding bills that had been in the works before the shutdown – one to fully-fund 8 of the 9 departments and the other to fund DHS until February 8. But Senate Majority Leader McConnell is refusing to allow those bills to be voted on by the Senate. He won't let them come to a vote because he knows some Republican senators will join all the Democrats in voting for them -- enough to either pass them and send them to Trump for signature or enough to force a Republican filibuster to try to block them.

This continues their undemocratic Rule-by-Republicans policy that only allows voting on legislation that a majority of Republican senators support. Any bill that might pass with support from a combination of Democratic and Republican senators is blocked unless a majority of Republicans support it. This effectively strips Democratic senators of legislative powers they were elected to wield. Indivisible is urging Democratic senators to use every parliamentary tool they have to slow down and block all Senate business until Republicans reopen the government. So long as the government is prevented from serving the American people, the Senate should not be allow to serve the Republican Party's political agenda.

Trump has stated that if Congress does send him funding bills that don't include money for the wall he will veto them. It will require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate to override a presidential veto.

Trump has also threatened to declare a national emergency that will grant him power to build his wall without congressional funding. Presidential emergency powers are broad and ill-defined. What constitutes a national emergency is also vague. Whether Trump can actually use a national emergence declaration to build his wall, and how that would work, is not clear. Trump has announced he will address the nation on border security Tuesday evening and he may use that opportunity to declare a national emergency.

Only massive public pressure can resolve this. Only massive public pressure can convince McConnell and other Republicans to vote for the House bills to end the shutdown. Only massive public pressure can force Trump to sign those bills or convince enough Republican senators to override a Trump veto. Therefore, to the extent that we are able, we should reach out to people we know in Red states and districts and urge them to contact their MoC in support of ending the shutdown and no wall.