National Security

Schumer Still Pointing Fingers of Blame at Trump for Holding Federal Workers ‘Hostage’

Democratic leader made the accusation at a time when both sides need to work together to avoid another shutdown

Image Credit: Carlos Barria-Pool/Getty Images & NICHOLAS KAMM/Contributor/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed President Donald Trump for the recent government shutdown on Tuesday — just a day before negotiations are to reopen.

Trump helped end the record-long partial government shutdown of 35 days by signing a short-term spending bill late last Friday.

The spending bill keeps the government open for another three weeks, allowing both sides time to negotiate a deal on border security.

The conference committee to negotiate a deal is planning to meet Wednesday for the first time.

“Thankfully, hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors are back on the job,” Schumer told reporters at a press conference. “It is a relief to them above all, but to all of America. These are working people, they work so hard — and to use them as hostages to get something that has nothing to do with them was so wrong and I’m glad President Trump backed off.”

Schumer’s statement comes at a time when both sides sorely need to work together. The two sides could cause another government shutdown in a few weeks if they are unable to achieve agreement. The main issue they must contend with is a massive political divide on border security — and whether a wall or barrier along the southern border should be part of that.

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Related: White House Fights for Border Security with Possible New Shutdown Ahead

Trump said late last year that he would not sign any more spending bills that didn’t include $5.7 billion for the border security wall. Democratic leaders opposed providing any funding for the wall — which led both sides to a government shutdown on December 22.

But the president eventually relented on his veto threat by signing the short-term bill.

“It’s good news that our federal employees are back to work,” Schumer said. “But there are still impacts of the Trump shutdown,” he said in a pointed reference to the president. “I hope this serves as a lesson to President Trump and all of my Republican colleagues — no more shutdowns. President Trump touched a hot stove and hopefully, he won’t do it again.”

Schumer added that even though federal workers are able to get back to work, there are still costs attached to the shutdown. He highlighted the many workers who have fallen behind on bills, groceries and other basic payments. There is also the impact on the economy as a whole. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the shutdown cost the economy $11 billion — though White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow took issue with that.

“We frequently disagree with CBO, with all respect,” Kudlow said Monday at a press briefing. “They’re doing the best job they can, I get that. I won’t acknowledge any of that right now. You know, in a $20 trillion economy, it’s awfully hard to make even the best guesstimates of those kinds of small fractions of numbers.”

On Tuesday, shortly before Schumer’s remarks, Senate Majority Whip John Thune commented at a separate event, “I am hoping now that the government has reopened that the Democrats will honor their commitment. We hope that they will operate in good faith, [will] sit down and get serious about negotiating a solution to our border, to make sure we have good border security measures in place.”

“We think there are members of the rank-and-file Democrats in both the House and the Senate who are open to an agreement,” said Thune.

Trump and congressional leaders from both parties continued discussions throughout the shutdown. But despite those meetings, the record-long shutdown dragged on until it was finally pushed back by three weeks.

Throughout, both sides accused the other of holding furloughed government workers hostage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) claimed that Democrats flip-flopped on the issue of border security funding, since they used to support funding a border wall. Trump even walked out of a meeting with Democratic leaders to resolve the shutdown on January 9.

“The Democrats who have been blocking that all along, we know, [are] mostly in the leadership,” Thune said. “We think there are members of the rank-and-file Democrats in both the House and the Senate who are open to an agreement.” He added that he hoped “the people who will be sitting at the conference table will be able to fasten one.”

Related: Trump Still Not Willing to Cave on Border Wall Amid Longest Shutdown

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reaffirmed that border security is a top priority during a press conference on Monday. She argued the president reopened the government because Democrats have signaled a willingness to reach a real deal that fixes the problem at the border.

“The conference committee we suggested as a way out of the Trump shutdown permanently will begin tomorrow,” Schumer also said on Tuesday. “The House and Senate should thrive to find common ground and build from there. Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for stronger border security measures at our ports of entry to stop illegal drugs as well as humanitarian assistance, and those are good places to start.”

Congressional Democrats insisted throughout the shutdown they were for border security, but expressed reservations over whether a border wall was the best approach. Sanders was also asked whether the president would declare a state of emergency if a deal wasn’t reached in three weeks.

While she didn’t say he would declare an emergency, she seemed to leave the door open. Trump had earlier floated the idea of declaring an emergency to free up billions in funds for his border wall.

But he also would be likely to face a legal battle if he does — and has been warned by lawmakers and others to avoid that approach.

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