Floor Statement Of Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The 20th Day Of The Trump Shutdown

President Trump is right about one thing.  Today, there is a crisis in America.  But it is not fictitious hordes of illegal immigrants crashing against our southern border.  That is nothing more than the imaginary invasion of a President obsessed with constructing a wasteful monument to himself.  The obsession of a President who long before the Trump Shutdown began resorting to misinformation and stoking fear among the American people for political gain.

There is a crisis in America, but it is not the crisis the President wants us to believe.  It is a crisis at the kitchen table.  Today, hundreds of thousands of American families are preparing to miss their first paycheck through no fault of their own.  These families are trying to figure out how they will make ends meet, how they will pay their mortgage or heating bills, or, god forbid, whether or not they can afford both food for their table and medicine for their children next week.

This is the crisis in America.  These are the “adjustments” President Trump has glibly said our country’s public servants are “willing” to make on behalf of his wasteful border wall – a wall the President repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for.  

I have never in my 44 years in the United States Senate seen something so tone deaf from a President of the United States.  Even during his address to the nation on Tuesday night, which was more of an exercise in data-distorting demagoguery than informing the American people, President Trump refused to acknowledge the real pain the Trump Shutdown is causing.

But dozens of Vermonters have contacted my office to share how they are suffering under the Trump Shutdown.  These Vermonters are urging the President and my Republican colleagues to stop playing politics with their lives and reopen the federal government. 

Like many Americans affected by the Trump Shutdown, one of the Vermonters to contact my office is a veteran.  He spent more than two decades serving his country in the Navy.  He is now a federal employee in charge of more than a dozen people who are going to him with questions he cannot answer.  He writes: “I have run out of words to tell the 15 employees who work for me when asked how they are supposed to provide food, heat, and electricity for their families here in Vermont.”

Keep in mind, the weather in Vermont is projected to drop well below zero over the weekend.

He continues: “We are real people, with real families, and real bills. Creditors do not ‘understand.’ They want their money.”  Imagine trying to explain to the bank that you cannot pay your mortgage this month because the President of the United States is throwing a tantrum and holding your pay check hostage?  Imagine trying to explain it to your children.

Another Vermonter wrote to me expressing concern for his 88-year-old aunt, who recently moved between nursing homes to be closer to her family.  Because the phones at the Treasury Department are going unanswered, approval for the transfer of his aunt’s benefits from one facility to another has been delayed.  Thankfully, we heard that the transfer had been approved only this morning, but that does not detract from the uncertainty and anxiety caused for this family.  In true Vermont fashion, her new home was allowing her to stay while we in Washington sort out this mess caused by President Trump.  But the bills are piling up and delays are placing a burden on this small, local nursing home.

He writes: “To be sure, we do not believe that capitulation to the Republican demand for the Wall is the answer; yet, the toll on the people of holding the government hostage to such outrageous demands must not be ignored.”

Finally, today, I will share the story of a Vermonter who wrote to me about her sister.  Her sister joined the U.S. Forest Service.  In the wake of the recent hurricanes and typhoons, she used a government credit card, issued in her name, to travel with the service to assist in the aftermath of these disasters.  But now the bills for her official travel – official travel – are due, but there is no one at the Forest Service to pay them.  She is now stuck with more than $5,500 in government bills in her name that she must pay or risk damaging her own financial record.

She writes: “This, though is one very small story in a flood of credit disasters, unpaid mortgages, Christmas debts, anxieties, and uncertainties among government employees affected by the shutdown.  I’m writing you to suggest that this kind of government shutdown should not be on the negotiation table, because it holds out the possibility that the suffering of the American people can be used as political leverage.  There are other ways.”

I agree.  This is just a handful of stories from my small state of Vermont.  Think of the fear and anxiety today of American families as they sit around their kitchen tables trying to figure out what to do when the check does not arrive tomorrow.  Think about the impact this has on the talented young student who was thinking about taking a pay cut to work for their government out of a sense of duty.  Think about the morale of the American people who serve this country when the President of the United States says their livelihoods are worth risking over his border wall.

And I say border wall on purpose.  If this was about “border security” the men and women who protect our borders, who patrol our coast lines, would be receiving their pay checks, not forced to be pawns in the President’s political game.

The great irony of the Trump Shutdown is that it has made our borders less safe.  Today, 88 percent of the Department of Homeland Security, including 54,000 Customs and Border Patrol Agents are working without pay.  At our airports, where the overwhelming majority of the “suspected terrorists” President Trump’s wall is meant to stop are actually intercepted, more than 51,000 TSA agents are working without pay.  Morale is so low that many have just stopped showing up to work, leading to longer wait times and straining security measures.  More than 42,000 members of our Coast Guard, an effective investment in securing our borders and stopping the flow of drugs, are working without pay as I stand here today.

And what does President Trump have to say to all of this?  Nothing.  It has been widely reported that instead of sitting down and negotiating with Democrats, President Trump simply stood up and walked out of the room – like a bully – yesterday tweeting shortly after “bye bye.”

There is the real crisis in our country.  It is the crisis at the kitchen table as families struggle over how they will make it through the next week.  It is the crisis of morale as the dedicated men and women who serve our country debate leaving for a career that cannot be used as a political pawn.  It is the crisis of confidence in the young men and women doubting a career in public service.  And it is the crisis of leadership when a President simply walks away.

There is a crisis created by one man – President Trump.  We have bipartisan bills before us that could reopen the government.  It is time for Republicans and Democrats to join together to tell the President to put a stop to this self-inflicted wound.  He needs to hear it from both sides of the aisle.  I implore Leader McConnell to bring up H.R. 21 and H.S. Res. 1 and send them to the President.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667