Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Trump Shutdown -- Day Eighteen

Today marks the eighteenth day of the Trump Shutdown.  For more than two weeks now, the President has held the paychecks of over 800,000 Americans hostage in order to extort Congress into funding his border wall — a wall for which he promised the American taxpayers, over and over again, that Mexico would pay.   


For more than two weeks, the President has withheld vital government services to the American people in order to gain leverage to fulfill a divisive campaign promise and rally his base.  Shamefully, he cares more about this cynical bumper sticker symbol of his presidency than he does about the millions of Americans impacted by his shutdown or the hardships to come if the Trump Shutdown continues.    

What will the President say to the 800,000 Federal workers who will not get a paycheck this Friday because of this political stunt?  What will he say to the men and women that have mortgages, families to feed, and bills to pay?  What will he say to those forced to deplete their hard-earned savings or retirement funds, or to those who have no safety net at all? 

Just yesterday, a man called my office.  He has a job with the Internal Revenue Service in Vermont and has been furloughed.  He will not receive a paycheck this week.  He fears he will not be able to pay his bills past mid-January if he does not get paid.  He has already turned off his cable and most of his family’s cell service to save money.  He was concerned about feeding his family, and his wife has serious medical issues that require attention.  He was upset, worried, and looking for help.  Does the President even care? 

The President claims he can “relate” to these people.  He dismisses their fears, glibly saying they will “make adjustments.”  He even absurdly claims they support his silly wall.  Really?  I’ve never heard anything more tone deaf from a President of the United States.  Perhaps for a man who was made a millionaire by his father at the age of eight, the idea of living pay-check-to-paycheck is a foreign concept, but it is not to the millions of Americans across this country who struggle to make ends meet.  They should not be bargaining chips in the President’s game.  This is not a game, and the President should not treat it as such. 

In addition to all of the Federal employees who are wondering when they will get their next pay check, vital services on which many Americans rely on and have paid taxes to support have come to a grinding halt.  Farmers cannot get loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to get them through the next planting season, because no one is in the office to process the applications.  The USDA cannot implement the new Farm Bill because all of the staff have been furloughed.  Our National Parks are being vandalized and littered with trash and human waste.  Since the Trump Shutdown began, seven people have died in National Parks that were left unsupervised and unstaffed.  Homebuyers are finding out their Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan applications are on hold.  Food safety inspections are slowing.  The Small Business Administration has stopped issuing new business loans, and our Federal courts are running out of money. 

This is the United States of America.  The President should be embarrassed. 

Everyone agrees that we need to secure our borders, but there are smart ways to do it, and a wall is not one of them.  It is a 5th Century solution to a 21st Century problem.  The President’s own acting Chief of Staff said in 2015 that the idea was “absurd and almost childish.”  He said a “fence doesn’t stop anybody who really wants to get across . . . you go under, you go around, you go through it.”  This might be the one time Mick Mulvaney and I are in agreement. 

To do what the President wants to do would require seizing land from ranchers and farmers.  It would require building walls through wildlife refuges and nature preserves, and would forever scar the landscape and ecosystem of the southwest border in ways we cannot anticipate.  And after all of that, and billions of wasted tax payer dollars, what would we have accomplished? 

Tonight, the President will assert that the security of our Nation is in crisis.  He will assert that criminals and drugs are pouring across the border.  But his claims will not be grounded in fact.  The disinformation coming from the White House has been staggering.  In his zeal to feign a national emergency at the border, the President has employed nothing short of a propaganda campaign. 

The reality is that between 2000 and 2018, apprehensions at the border have dropped by 75 percent.  The reality is that apprehensions at the Southwest border have dropped to similar levels as we had in the 1970s.  The reality is that many southern border communities have violent crime rates that are lower than the national average.  The reality, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, is that the vast majority of drugs apprehended at the border are seized at ports of entry, so a wall between such ports would be entirely useless.

The demographic that is increasing in number are families — women and children — seeking asylum.  Many are not even trying to sneak past the border patrol; they are presenting themselves to border patrol agents when they cross.  They are not here to perpetuate violence; they are fleeing it.  Wasting billions of American taxpayer dollars to build a wall will not stop them from coming.  We need comprehensive immigration reform — like that which the Senate passed in 2013 — and smart foreign policy to address these issues, not fear mongering and thousands of miles of concrete or steel. 

The Constitution invests the power of the purse to Congress.  It is our job to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.  A border wall does not meet that threshold.  Even if it did, the President has never provided us with a detailed plan for how he would spend the money, and he has been all over the map about how much he is demanding and how he would spend it.  For someone who spent years as the host of a reality TV show, reality has never been his strong suit.

We are not in the business of providing blank checks to satisfy presidential whims.  The President’s own budget request to Congress was $1.6 billion for his wall, and he has never submitted an addendum.  Instead, he makes demands by tweet and through the press.  I have lost track of all the times his demands for the wall have changed.     

This weekend, Democrats asked the Vice President for more details on their border wall request.  The administration sent Chairman Shelby and me a letter asking for $7 billion in border security “investments” that the President is demanding as part of this negotiation, including $5.7 billion for the wall. 

This letter came three months into the fiscal year and 18 days into the shutdown.  This letter came not from the President, but from the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  In total, the Administration is now asking for $5.6 billion more for the Department of Homeland Security than they proposed in their original budget request, including an additional $4.1 billion for his wall.  But the letter included no budget justification, no details, and no suggestions for how to pay for it.  This is not how we operate.  It is time for this to end.  I ask unanimous request that this letter be made part of the record. 

The President may not care about the impact his shutdown is having on millions of Americans, but the Senate must.  Stoking fear through misinformation in order to promote a political agenda is simply wrong. 

We could, and should, reopen the government this week.  Last week the House passed a bipartisan six bill “minibus” to reopen most of the government, and a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security.  The six appropriations bills the House passed originated in the Republican-controlled Senate last Congress and had bipartisan support. 

I worked hard with Senator Shelby to produce these bills last summer and fall, and all of them received nearly unanimous support when they were considered on the floor of the Senate, or in the Appropriations Committee.  Senator McConnell should bring them to the floor of the U.S. Senate today and put them up for a vote.  It is time to end this nonsense.  He owes it, and we owe it, to the American people. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667