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

Today nine of our 15 federal departments, and several dozen agencies have shuttered their doors, denying vital services to millions of American citizens.  Since midnight last night, and just a few days before Christmas, more than 800,000 public servants and their families have been told not to expect their next paycheck for the foreseeable future.   

There is one reason and one reason only that our federal government has shut down today and countless Americans are living with uncertainty – and that reason is President Donald J. Trump.

The President is holding the federal government hostage for $5 billion of American taxpayer dollars for his unnecessary, ineffective, and expensive wall on the southern border—a wall he repeatedly promised the American taxpayers Mexico would pay for. 

The President’s irresponsible behavior is astounding.  His job, like ours, is to keep the federal government operating for the hundreds of millions of Americans who depend on government services every day, from our national parks, to housing services for the elderly, disabled, and our veterans, and for assistance for our nation’s farmers.  Just two days ago, the President patted himself on the back for signing the Farm bill, and today he has precipitated a shutdown that shuttered the doors to USDA field offices that farmers rely on to understand this new law. 

The worst part of this situation is that it was completely avoidable.  We have provided the President with several options to avoid this result.  We offered to pass six full-year appropriations bills, and a Continuing Resolution for Homeland, or a Continuing Resolution for all the remaining bills.  Either of these options would have kept the government open, and provided more than a billions dollars for border security, the very thing the President says he cares most about.   

After rejecting both of these offers, the Senate passed by voice vote a seven-week continuing resolution (CR) to give us more time to negotiate and avert this catastrophe, and the President had agreed to sign it.  We had a path forward.  But after 24 hours of Fox News and the right wing media criticizing him, the President’s fragile ego was so bruised that he reversed course.  And here we are—exactly where the President wanted us to be, in the middle of a Trump Shutdown. 

For anyone doubting where responsibility lays, let’s recall that the President has publicly called for a government shutdown no fewer than 25 times over the last year.  Just last week, he declared he would be “proud” to shut down the government unless we capitulate to his demands.  Proud?  That is one of the most reckless statements I have ever heard uttered by a President of the United States.  And now he has made good on his threat.  The Trump Shutdown has begun.  And how long will it last?  Who knows?  Yesterday, the President said it will last a “long time,” and then he said it would be a “short” shutdown.  Even in this, his behavior is erratic.

How did we get here?  Is there a legitimate crisis precipitating this shutdown?  Is the President playing games with the lives, and livelihoods of American citizens to solve some immediate problem that threatens our nation?  No.  Caving to the most extreme sliver of his base, President Trump is throwing a childish tantrum, because he wants money to fulfill a cynical promise he repeatedly made on the campaign trail – more of a symbolic prize than a sensible policy solution. 

This wasteful wall – which would do more to preserve the President’s ego than it would to protect the American people – is the natural result of the President’s years-long demonization and vilification of immigrants.  Years during which the President rallied his base with falsehoods and fantasies where vulnerable women and children are portrayed as hordes of gang members and terrorists “invading” our country.  The sad reality is that many of these people coming to our country are fleeing desperate situations in their home countries looking for sanctuary – they aren’t coming here to perpetuate violence, they are running from it. 

Let me be clear.  There is no crisis that requires us to build a 30-foot wall between us and our neighbors to the south.  The President’s hateful rhetoric about a crisis on our southern border does not reflect reality.  At the end of 2017, arrests of people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally dropped to historic lows.  Between 2000 and 2018, border apprehensions fell sharply from roughly 1.6 million in fiscal year2000 to approximately 400,000 in fiscal year 2018 – that is a 75 percent drop

Not only do the facts on the ground not warrant spending billions of American taxpayer dollars on a “big beautiful wall” -- as the President likes to call it -- it is not who we are as a nation.  We are country founded by immigrants, and walling ourselves off from our neighbors is not only an expensive waste of American taxpayer dollars, it is immoral, ineffective, and an affront to everything this country stands for. 

To build the wall the President wants to seize land from ranchers and farmers in Texas and other border states. We would need to construct walls through wildlife refuges and nature preserves.  And we’d end up walling ourselves off from the Rio Grande in the process, essentially ceding the river to Mexico. 

And after all of that, and billions of wasted taxpayer dollars, what would it accomplish?  Would it stop people from fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking sanctuary?  No.  Would it stop drug smugglers and human traffickers from engaging in illegal activity?  Definitely no.  As the expression goes, show me a 30-foot wall, and I will show you a 31-foot ladder – or a tunnel.  To address these complex issues, we need real solutions, not bumper sticker slogans and angry tweets. 

Everyone agrees that we need to keep our border safe and secure; but it must be smart border security, border security that works—new technologies proven to work on the border and at our ports of entry, new air and marine assets, and additional personnel where needed.   We do not need to build a 30-foot wall. And even if we did, what is the rush? 

Over the last two years, Congress has provided nearly $1.7 billion to build or replace fencing on the southern border, but the Administration has hardly spent any of that money, and the projects it has undertaken have ballooned in cost.  So far, only six percent of those funds have been spent.  Six.  And we have recently learned that one project in the Rio Grande Valley that was supposed to cost $445 million, will now cost the American taxpayers nearly $787 million — that’s a 77 percent cost overrun, at a price tag of $31.5 million per mile.  We can’t trust this Administration to be responsible with the money we have already provided, let alone trust it to spend responsibly the additional money President Trump is demanding.

We must put an end to this nonsense, once and for all.  We could finish six of the seven appropriations bills right now while we continue to debate these other issues. 

These bills are the product of bipartisan compromise and provide billions of dollars in new resources to address critical needs of the American people and to protect U.S. national security.  These six bills would provide much-needed funding to help combat our nation’s opioid epidemic, and critical investments in infrastructure to help rebuild our nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, and highways.  They provide resources to protect the environment and help ensure that the water we drink and the air we breathe is safe and clean for this generation and the next.  And they support key allies and national security programs that enable the United States to be a global leader – a role that is being increasingly challenged by China and Russia. 

Is the President really going to hold the American people hostage over a wall that he repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for?  Is he really going to force hundreds of thousands of federal employees – including the very agents he depends upon to carry out his immigration enforcement policies – to work without pay over the Christmas holiday?  Is he really going to tell millions of Americans – including his most ardent supporters – that he could care less whether they are cut off from critical government services purely in service of his own vanity?

The President has apparently decided that fighting a symbolic fight for his shiny object is more important than keeping our government running for the American people.  It is the height of irresponsibility.  Negotiations with Chairman Shelby and Leader McConnell continue in good faith, but can only succeed if President Trump decides to put the country first.  He owes it to the American people.  

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667