Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Statement On Day 34 Of The Trump Shutdown

It has been more than a month since the Trump Shutdown began – 34 days to be precise. 

I hear from people every day about the pain and suffering this shutdown has caused.  Tomorrow hundreds of thousands of public servants will miss their second paycheck since the shutdown began, and many of these people have been on the job the entire time.  They are angry and they are confused about why their paychecks are being held hostage by the President in what he appears to view as a political game.  Many can no longer pay their bills. They are worried about what tomorrow will bring.     

Basic government services are no longer functioning.  Our federal courts run out of money by the end of this month.  Important scientific research has been put on hold.  The fishing industry is in turmoil because they cannot get the federal permits or inspections required to take out their boats.  In the wake of a record-setting fire season, the Forest Service has curtailed thinning and fire prevention projects.  Federal law enforcement and prosecutors are sounding the alarm that the shutdown is hindering important investigative work and criminal prosecutions. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are calling in sick in record numbers after a month of being on the job with no paycheck.  These are the people charged with detecting dangerous threats at our nation’s airports, and they are stressed and frustrated.  This is not a good combination.  Long lines are forming at airports and a lack of TSA employees has forced some major airports to close screening areas, causing further delays. 

Sadly, I could go on, and on, and on.  The Trump Shutdown is hurting our nation and our citizens, and it makes us look weak and foolish. 

But we can end the Trump Shutdown right now, today, and for the sake of the country we must.

The McConnell Amendment, the so-called “End the Shutdown and Reopen the Government Act” is a non-starter.  I came to the floor yesterday and detailed why, and I will not repeat my full statement here.  But it is the height of irresponsibility to use the pain and suffering of the American people as leverage to force the U.S. taxpayers to fund the President’s bumper-sticker, campaign slogan, southern border wall, or to enact his hard-line, anti-immigrant agenda.  And that is what this bill does.  It is not a compromise.  It is not a deal.  I urge Senators to oppose this amendment.  If we give into these tactics now, where will it stop?  What is the next thing the President will shut the government down over? 

H.R. 268, however, which is what the Schumer Amendment contains, is a bipartisan bill that we can all support.  It would reopen the government by extending funding for the seven remaining appropriations bills through February 8, 2019.  Passage of this bill would ensure Federal employees are paid and critical services restored.  It would provide time for negotiation and debate on border security without the American people being held hostage to the President’s ill-considered anti-immigrant agenda.  I urge Senators to vote for it. 

On December 19, we passed a bill to fund the government to February 8 in this Chamber by voice vote.  In other words, the Senate was for keeping the government open, until President Trump changed the minds of our Republican leaders. 

H.R. 268 also provides $14 billion in assistance to help communities and families impacted by natural disasters recover and rebuild.  It would provide assistance to the victims of Hurricanes Michael and Florence, the California wildfires, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, recent typhoons in the Pacific, and other natural disasters.  It also continues assistance for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Category 5 Hurricanes Maria and Irma.  

The McConnell amendment also contains a disaster package nearly identical to H.R. 268, but in an effort to appease the President, it eliminates ALL disaster assistance for Puerto Rico.  In total, it eliminates $1.3 billion in funding for clean and safe water drinking grants, community redevelopment funds, and nutrition assistance that would have helped Puerto Rico continue their recovery.    

Hurricane Maria and Irma devastated Puerto Rico, destroying the island’s homes, infrastructure, and causing the deaths of an estimated 2,975 people.  It was one of the deadliest hurricanes this country has ever seen.  While Congress has provided Puerto Rico with assistance in past disaster bills, they still have unaddressed needs that must be met.  Absent supplemental assistance, it is estimated that 140,000 Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, will lose nutrition assistance at the end of March. 

This is the United States of America.  We are supposed take care of all of our citizens when there is a crisis, not pick and choose based who we are aligned with politically.  The President’s disregard for the victims of Hurricane Maria is shameful.  

I urge Senators to vote “aye” on the Schumer Amendment.  This would provide much needed assistance to disaster affected communities and would immediately allow us to send a bill to the President to reopen the government.  This has gone on long enough.  The President may not care about the harm he is inflicting on this country, but I know the members of this body do.  We know what it means to govern and to lead, and we have a responsibility to do it now. 

Senator Shelby and I worked together last year in a bipartisan way to get the appropriations process back on track.  We showed that this is the way to get things done.  Then the President took us off course.  But we are an independent, co-equal branch of government, and we should start acting like it. 

Let’s end this national nightmare and vote to open the government now.  Today. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667