- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 27, 2019

With the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history over, the clock is now ticking for Congress to strike a deal on border security funding, for shuttered agencies to get up and running again and for federal employees who were furloughed or working without pay to get reimbursed.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that President Trump is prepared to orchestrate another shutdown or declare a national emergency to secure funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall if Congress can’t strike a security deal by the new funding deadline of Feb. 15.


“He’s willing to do whatever it takes to secure the border,” Mr. Mulvaney said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He does take this very seriously. This is a serious humanitarian and security crisis.”

The shutdown, which started on Dec. 22, has resulted in a total of about 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or working without pay.

Mr. Trump signed legislation Friday that the House and that Senate sped through earlier that day to temporarily extend funding for nine shuttered departments and other agencies through Feb. 15.

The short-term legislation doesn’t include money for new construction on Mr. Trump’s desired wall — a concession the White House repeatedly demanded throughout negotiations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats refused to budge on that demand.

Mr. Mulvaney said Democrats indicated that they would be willing to negotiate on a “barrier” but not while the government was shut down.

“One of the reasons he agreed to open the government this week was to essentially take the Democrats at their word,” he said.

House and Senate leaders have named negotiators from both parties who are tasked with crafting a Homeland Security Department spending bill that is agreeable to Congress and the White House.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said Sunday that he thinks lawmakers can strike a deal with some money for a wall.

“They’d be smart not to recommend something the president couldn’t sign, because under the Constitution, if you want a law, the president has to sign it,” Mr. Alexander said on Fox Business Network.

Democrats last week were preparing a package that could have included $5.7 billion for border security. It was the same amount the president was seeking for a wall, but it would use the money instead for infrastructure at U.S. ports of entry, technology, additional immigration judges and other priorities.

Mrs. Pelosi said after Mr. Trump announced the plan to reopen government that she has been “very clear” on the wall but that she wants to leave specific negotiations up to the members appointed to the House-Senate conference committee.

“Let us increase the infrastructure where the drugs are coming in, let us increase … the technology to scan for that, for drugs, guns, contraband and the rest, let us talk about some of the things we have in common with the president in terms of humanitarian assistance for those coming over,” the House speaker said.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Trump had been engaged in an escalating standoff over the president’s State of the Union address, which is unlikely to take place on Tuesday as originally planned.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, on Sunday mentioned Feb. 5 as a potential new date but said it’s ultimately up to Mrs. Pelosi whether the speech takes place in the House chamber.

“Feb. 5 is a date that seems to work well,” Mr. Scalise said on Fox Business Network, adding that he thought it was “disgraceful” that Mrs. Pelosi essentially rescinded an invitation to Mr. Trump.

Upon becoming speaker this month, Mrs. Pelosi invited the president to address a joint session of Congress on Jan. 29. She later wrote a letter suggesting that he consider delivering the address after the shutdown ended, prompting Mr. Trump to respond that he still planned to go through with the speech.

After Mrs. Pelosi wrote back to say she wouldn’t take up a joint resolution allowing him to deliver the address in the House chamber, Mr. Trump backed down.

The president also has been considering declaring a national emergency, which could allow him to circumvent Congress and task the military with building the wall.

“We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then obviously we’ll do the emergency, because that’s what it is,” Mr. Trump told reporters Friday at the White House. “It’s a national emergency.”

But Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said Sunday that invoking a national emergency would be a “terrible idea” and that the issue ultimately could get tied up in the courts.

“It doesn’t provide certainty, and you could very well wind up in sort of a theatric victory at the front end and then not getting it done,” Mr. Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Federal agencies affected by the shutdown are grinding back into gear after the extended lapse in funding started to take a tangible toll.

Hours before Mr. Trump signed the stopgap funding bill into law, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights into New York City’s LaGuardia Airport amid a staffing shortage that helped lead to delays across the Northeast.

The National Park Service announced Friday that regular operations at parks were resuming, though Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said visitors should check with individual parks and that they all might not reopen immediately.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, for example, is working to resume “regular winter operations,” but the government said restoring access to parts of the park is expected to take “many days” because employees will have to remove snow that has accumulated in recent weeks.

The Smithsonian Institution said its museums and the National Zoo would reopen Tuesday at their regularly scheduled times.

Tax-filing season starts Monday, presenting a huge challenge for an IRS that tried to recall thousands of employees to work without pay during the shutdown.

Federal employees affected by the shutdown should receive back pay immediately, said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents federal employees who work at the IRS and other agencies.

“Some 800,000 middle-class working families around the country are strapped for cash, and their suffering should prompt agency payroll providers to move swiftly in cutting the back-pay checks,” Mr. Reardon said.

Mr. Trump earlier this month signed into law a measure ensuring that affected federal workers would get paid for lost wages during the shutdown.

Mr. Mulvaney said the hope is that federal employees who were furloughed or forced to work without pay will receive back pay by the end of this week.

“Some of them could be early this week. Some of them may be later this week, but we hope that by the end of this week all of the back pay will be made up and, of course, the next payroll will go out on time,” he said.

The federal Office of Personnel Management said Sunday in a memo that officials are committed to ensuring retroactive pay is provided “as soon as possible,” regardless of scheduled pay dates.

Acting Director Margaret Weichert also said agencies should be “as flexible as possible” with affected employees and that many workers could face extenuating circumstances that could delay a return to the office.

“Accordingly, we encourage managers to take these individual challenges into consideration, and to the extent possible, provide appropriate flexibility to employees who are facing legitimate difficulties that may delay their return to work,” Ms. Weichert wrote.


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