Shutdown becomes longest federal closure in U.S. history

House, Senate voted to give federal workers back pay when government reopens, then left for weekend

  • Jan. 12, 2019 10:08 a.m.

The partial government shutdown became the longest closure in U.S. history when the clock ticked past midnight into early Saturday as President Donald Trump and nervous Republicans scrambled to find a way out of the mess.

A solution couldn’t come soon enough for federal workers who got pay statements Friday but no pay.

READ MORE: U.S. federal workers get $0 pay stubs as shutdown drags on

The House and Senate voted to give federal workers back pay whenever the federal government reopens and then left town for the weekend, leaving the shutdown on track to become one for the record books once the clock struck midnight and the closure entered its 22nd day.

And while Trump privately considered one dramatic escape route — declaring a national emergency to build the wall without a new stream of cash from Congress — members of his own party were fiercely debating that idea, and the president urged Congress to come up with another solution.

“What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” Trump said. He insisted that he had the authority to do that, adding that he’s “not going to do it so fast” because he’d still prefer to work a deal with Congress.

READ MORE: Government shutdown will soon slow borders, affect food quality, B.C. prof says

About 800,000 workers missed paychecks Friday, many receiving blank pay statements. Some posted photos of their empty earnings statements on social media as a rallying cry to end the shutdown, a jarring image that many in the White House feared could turn more voters against the president as he holds out for billions in new wall funding.

With polls showing Trump getting most of the blame for the shutdown, the administration accelerated planning for a possible emergency declaration to try to get around Congress and fund the wall from existing sources of federal revenue. The White House explored diverting money for wall construction from a range of other accounts. One idea being considered was diverting some of the $13.9 billion allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s deadly hurricanes and floods.

That option triggered an outcry from officials in Puerto Rico and some states recovering from natural disasters, and appeared to lose steam on Friday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called it an “unconscionable” idea to look at using disaster assistance “to pay for an immoral wall that America doesn’t need or want.”

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas told reporters after discussions with the White House: “I feel confident disaster relief dollars will not be tapped.” Brady said the administration was looking at the “breadth” of unspent dollars in other government accounts.

Other possibilities included tapping asset forfeiture funds, including money seized by the Department of Justice from drug kingpins, according to a congressional Republican not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. The White House also was eyeing military construction funds, another politically difficult choice because the money would be diverted from a backlog of hundreds of projects at bases around the nation.

The Associated Press

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