Mr. President, I rise to discuss President Trump’s ongoing shutdown of the Federal Government— how we got here, the impact on the people of my State, and how we can make some progress. It is past time for the President to stop holding the American people for ransom through this government shutdown. It is past time to stop the misinformation campaign and to stop making unwarranted demands for the ill use of American taxpayers’ dollars. The President needs to open the government. The Senate did its work on the budget. We have bipartisan, compromise bills that are ready for the President’s signature.
Chairman Collins and I worked together, on a bipartisan basis, to develop the fiscal year 2019 Transportation-HUD bill, which was reported out of committee unanimously. Our bill was then approved by the full Senate as part of a package that included three other bipartisan appropriations bills—Agriculture, Financial Services, and the Interior. Together, these bills passed by a veto-proof margin of 92 to 6. I am very proud of the work that Chairman Collins did and that I was able to assist with during this process to provide an additional $10 billion to rebuild our roads, our bridges, and our airports and to develop new affordable housing opportunities to more than 5 million low-income Americans who strive to make ends meet. These investments will grow our economy, spur job creation, and improve communities across America. The T-HUD bill—on an issue that both Chairman Collins and I care deeply about—will continue to make a major commitment to address homelessness among youth, veterans, and survivors of domestic violence. We are making real progress through the HUD-VASH Program, which has brought down homelessness among veterans by 49 percent since 2010 and is helping 64 communities in 3 States effectively end homelessness among veterans. In September, a Senate-House conference committee that I served on had essentially reached an agreement on a final version of these four bills. They could have been passed and signed into law by the start of the fiscal year last October 1. It would have been a victory for the American people—both for the smart investments these bills would make and for the restoration of good government and regular order, which Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy have both made it a priority to achieve. Instead, a final agreement was slow-walked and stalled by the House leadership and then the White House in order to give the President greater leverage for the shutdown he had been angling for over many months.
Here we are, 3 months into the fiscal year and 3 weeks into a shutdown, and 800,000 Federal employees have either been furloughed or forced to work without pay. Thousands of Federal contract employees are also out of work and may never be compensated. Trash is piling up at national parks, and damage is being reported. Employers can’t access the government’s E-Verify system to assure that they are hiring legal residents. Soon, the shutdown may prevent HUD from renewing project-based rental agreements. Press reports indicate that the shutdown is causing States to scale back in awarding highway and transit contracts. Starting as soon as this Friday, many Federal district courts will start feeling the Federal shutdown pinch more acutely, with just skeleton crews or just a few people working without pay, making it harder for Americans and businesses to get their day in court. Like everyone else, Federal employees—from Coast Guard officers and enlisted personnel to FBI agents, to air traffic controllers—have rent, mortgages, student loans, childcare, and healthcare bills to pay. Many work paycheck to paycheck. The President has said that he is willing to continue this shutdown for months or even years without a care about the effect it will have on their lives. Indeed, during his speech last night, the President didn’t even mention these Federal employees. In Congress, we hear their stories.
On Monday, air traffic controllers from T.F. Green Airport visited my office. They explained that this shutdown not only creates financial hardships for them, it also clogs the pipeline for the hiring and training of new controllers who are desperately needed to replace those who are eligible for retirement. I am hearing from other constituents too. A USDA meat inspector from Chepachet, RI, sent me an email over the holidays saying: I’m one of the Federal employees that will be impacted by the government shutdown/ impasse. . . . I’m required to report to work without pay for the duration. I have 3 children under 5 and a stay-at-home husband, with no contingency plan for lack of pay, especially during the holiday season. I realize it’s Christmas, and you all have families too. The holidays are stressful enough without additional financial stress. I hope the President will act and reopen the Department of Agriculture, the FDA, and other Agencies that keep our food and medicine safe. A Coast Guard lieutenant from Westerly, RI, also wrote me to say: I respectfully implore you to represent the needs and values of servicemembers such as myself, as well as the hard-working Coast Guard civilians who work alongside me. During the shutdown, our missions are stunted and our dedication is disrespected. As the only household income and as I continue to fulfill my commitment to active duty service, my ability to meet financial obligations for myself and my two young children is at great risk if the shutdown continues. Likewise, the government is not living up to its end of the contract made with my crew of both active duty and civilian members. Please share this plea with your fellow Congress members. Lieutenant, thank you for your service and for the additional sacrifice you and your colleagues are making today.
As we think about border security, let’s remember the important job the Coast Guard is doing to protect our border, particularly to prevent illegal drugs from entering the United States. In 2017 alone, the Coast Guard seized illegal drugs valued at $6.6 billion wholesale and detained 708 suspected smugglers for prosecution. So it is interesting to have the President talk about drug smugglers coming across our Mexican border while the Coast Guard is out there, unpaid, protecting us on all of the seas and oceans that abut the United States. It is not just Federal employees. An executive at a small shipyard in North Kingstown, RI, wrote to me this week to say: We do a great deal of work for the U.S. Coast Guard, and for the last three weeks, we have not been paid. We currently have about a half a million dollars due with an additional $200,000 going in for review and payment in the next week or so. This situation is beginning to hinder our ability to pay our vendors, and it’s created a cash flow deficiency that, if not resolved soon, will be difficult and costly to manage. Please feel free to share this message with whoever needs to hear about this. This is a small business in Rhode Island, repairing ships for our Coast Guard, that is facing financial distress—in fact, perhaps, disaster. Those are the people who are being harmed by this shutdown. Certainly, I hear this message, and I know my colleagues are listening, but for whatever reason, the President doesn’t seem to be listening.
So how does this get resolved? Democrats have offered several paths forward, but now the President—the person who caused this shutdown, who proudly declared on television he would take full credit for it—needs to commit to reopening the government without precondition. I know that many people say: Why can’t you just make a deal with the President? Unfortunately, the President can’t stick to basic facts, numbers, or a bargain. Originally, Mexico was going to pay for his border wall. Then he decided that American taxpayers should pay for it, so he asked Congress for $1.6 billion to build 65 miles of wall. Last Sunday, his request became $5.7 billion for more than 230 miles of wall. By Monday, he was considering declaring a national emergency and using national defense dollars without congressional approval. To the idea that the President would use defense dollars to build a border wall, let me say that his proposed wall has no core defense function. We are not at war with Mexico. In fact, the Pentagon’s most recent national defense strategy doesn’t mention the southern border as a national defense priority. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has billions of dollars in infrastructure backlogs, ranging from military construction projects for new missions to deferred maintenance in facilities sustainment, restoration, and modernization. There is no credible argument that a border wall takes priority over any of these. Of course, the President doesn’t have a real plan for building the border wall. In July, the Government Accountability Office warned that the Trump administration’s approach increased risks that the wall—in their words— ‘‘will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected.’’ Is there any wonder congressional GOP leaders rejected his wall when they controlled every branch of government in the last two years?
The President has not been honest with the American people. He hasn’t even been straight with members of his administration or Members of his own party in Congress, who are often hung out to dry. In fact, two days before the shutdown, the then-Senate majority whip told CNN, after a meeting with Vice President Pence, that the President would sign a clean continuing resolution to keep the government open until after Christmas. Less than 24 hours later, that position was reversed by a Presidential tweet. Even when the President makes a deal, he has trouble keeping it, especially when he is under criticism from rightwing talk radio and TV personalities. After negotiating overall funding levels for defense and nondefense spending last year, the President nearly vetoed the final 2018 Omnibus appropriations bill because he was criticized for the size and scope of the bill. Secretary Mattis had to be summoned to the White House to explain how important the bill was to the Pentagon before the President grudgingly agreed to sign it. Now there is no Secretary Mattis or anyone of his stature to give the President good counsel.
If the President remains implacable about his wall, it will be up to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join with Democrats to pass the bipartisan bills we have already agreed on together and reopen the government. I hope they do so, and soon, as the lives of our constituents and the health and businesses of our States are at stake. The answer we have to give is not to the President. The answer is to that young woman working every day without pay to protect the American public by inspecting foods that we eat. The answer we have to give is to that young Coast Guard officer who is working every day, trying to pay for and to afford things for a young family without being paid. The only answer we can give them is that we are opening up this government immediately. With that, I yield the floor.