WASHINGTON - The billionaire president needs to get out more often.
If President Donald Trump did, he might mingle with more folks than his close associates who were scheduled to get $10,000 pay raises, even as he froze the pay of federal employees and services deteriorate. That includes the 800,000 directly hit by Trump's partial government shutdown - 17 days old Monday. Democrats are seeking a general 1.9 percent raise and backpay for furloughed employees.
"You shouldn't be enduring this," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said during a conference call with federal union leaders and members Friday. "This is truly a shutdown [that] makes no sense whatsoever. Government should be open, should never have closed."
Hearing from rank and file feds might give Trump a better idea of the difficulties they face and a more realistic sense of their views about being locked out of their jobs or required to work with no guarantee of pay. Pay day this Friday is in grave danger of disappearing.
Trump, who suggested the shutdown could last months or a year, displayed woeful ignorance of their plight at this press conference Friday when he said feds would encourage him to "keep going" with the shutdown, because his obsession with a border wall "is far more important" that a fully operational government. He apparently got that impression from Border Patrol officers he met with Thursday. Federal workforce outliers, they endorsed his wall just as they did his candidacy, even though they too are victims of his shutdown.
During a press conference with Trump after that meeting, Art Del Cueto, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said "it comes down to border security. . .we are extremely grateful to President Trump. . .we fully support what he is doing to take care of our nation's borders."
Talk with federal employees and you'll quickly learn that doesn't reflect the views of many, including those in the council's parent union, the American Federation of Government Employees. During the press call Friday, Jacqueline Simon, AFGE's policy director, made it clear the council's stance is not AFGE's.
"No matter what some of our members may think of Mr. Trump's agenda on immigration and border security, we know that all of them, they need their paychecks and they can't go to the grocery store, pay their rent or their child care expenses with their love of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border," said Simon. "We know our members and every single agency affected by the shutdown are terrified about that when the day comes that there's no paycheck on pay day."
If Trump talked to more federal employees he'd hear stories from people like Katherine Scheflen, a lawyer in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, who needs her check on time. "I am a single mother of two disabled children. I live paycheck to paycheck, as do many American," she said. "It is not complicated - if I miss a paycheck, I cannot pay my mortgage and my other bills. It is as simple as that."
Congress probably will provide backpay for furloughed federal employees like Scheflen. But the likelihood of money in the future doesn't pay bills due today. Back pay for low-wage contractors, like those who serve lunch in federal cafeterias, is less likely.
"I live pay check to pay check like nearly all of my coworkers, and I'm scared that with losing weeks of income and my healthcare benefits, one family medical emergency for myself, my children, or my grandchildren during Donald Trump's shut down could make us homeless," said Lisa Earle in a statement provided by UNITE HERE Local 23, which represents the Smithsonian worker. "It's not fair that politicians playing games put me out of work, and it's even worse that my coworkers and I may never get backpay for the shutdown when we're just as impacted as all other federal workers."
It's ludicrous that Americans are denied federal services and workers like Scheflen and Earle suffer because Trump and Democrats differ over about $4 billion for the wall in a $4 trillion budget. Trump repeatedly and bogusly promised Mexico would pay for his unpopular wall proposal.
Yet, while there certainly is an argument for Democrats to meet Trump's hostage demands, make no mistake, this is Trump's shutdown and increasingly that of congressional Republicans.
Because of Trump's intransigence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., now refuses consideration of appropriation measures the Senate approved last month that would end the shutdown. The House voted for the legislation after Democrats took control last week, but McConnell won't call for another and necessary vote in the Senate.
The legislation would allow unfunded agencies that are not related to border security to operate. The Department of Homeland Security would get temporary funding, providing a month for the impasse discussions impasse to continue.
It should be a no-brainer. But McConnell called the House approval "a time-wasting act of political posturing," though the House followed the lead of his Republican controlled Senate.
"We're just going to have to work very hard," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said on the call with Cardin, "to increase the pressure on Mitch McConnell to hold that vote."
American voters will increase that pressure as government services continue to deteriorate.