The Democratic leaders on Wednesday joined affected federal workers at a press conference on Capitol Hill to urge Donald Trump to end the partial government shutdown.
Echoing language they used in their rebuttal to Trump’s Tuesday night address, they accused the president of misrepresenting their negotiating position and called it a “dark time” for American workers.
“To use them as hostages through a temper tantrum by the president is just so wrong, so unfair, so mean-spirited,” said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, pointing the workers standing behind him. “It ought to end and it ought to end now.”
House Democrats are planning to start passing individual spending bills that would reopen closed departments in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on Republicans. But the Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring legislation to the floor that Trump has not explicitly said he would support.
“Last night the president spouted more malice and misinformation, appealing to fear instead of facts,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “The reality is the president could end the Trump shutdown and reopen the government today – and he should.”
Jeffery David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, stressed the economic toll the shutdown – which he called a “lockout” – was having on workers, noting that his members’ average take-home pay is $500 a week.
“They need their jobs. They need their paydays. They want to service the American people and it’s time for this lockout to end,” Cox said.
Clifton Buchanan, a cook supervisor with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Houston, is among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who have been furloughed since 21 December, when parts of the government shut down.
Buchanan, who participated in the conference in Washington, turned 50 years old on Friday but instead of celebrating the milestone, he sat around the kitchen table with his wife discussing which bills they could afford to pay without his income.
“I’ve served this country for 29 years so it’s not like I’m against protecting our country” he said, referring to his service in the US army and his work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“But,” he said, directing his comments to Congress and the president, “open up the government and then do your political thing. Free the hostages.”
Right now I’m just trying to figure out how to pay my bills and feed my family. I’m not working. I’m not getting paid. I can’t pick and choose who to blame. I just know I have no income.”