01/18/2019 - 28 DAYS LATER
SEAN: Li Zhou, you're still on the shutdown downbeat for Vox.
SEAN: How are you keeping? Are you okay?
LI: I'm okay. But yet the shutdown I think is really wearing on everyone.
SEAN: Last week you were on the show we were talking about how it's about to be the longest shutdown ever. Now it is the longest shutdown ever with every day becomes another record breaker. Cardi B noticed this week.
CLIP: <CARDI> Because it's been a little bit over three weeks OK. It's been a little bit but three weeks. Trump. Is now ordering as is some in summonsing federal government workers to go back to work without getting paid. Now I don't want to hear yall motherfuckas talking about all but oh Obama shutdown the government for 17 days yeah bitch, for health care!
SEAN: Trump this week as we heard from Cardi B has begun asking more people to come back to work without pay. Who's coming back?
LI: There's folks coming back from a couple of different agencies
the IRS which is bringing back more than thirty thousand employees in order to prepare for tax filing season that's coming up at the end of this month. OK. FDA and FAA are both bringing back safety inspectors to help with food and airline safety. And then you also have the State Department which is bringing back all of its diplomats and actually saying that it's going to start paying people for at least one pay period. And then interestingly one that you might not expect is that the Interior Department is bringing back people to help with offshore oil drilling rights which kind of have a schedule that they are on and the administration has said they don't want any delays to that schedule.
SEAN: Is that one just to sort of stick it to Democrats who maybe aren't that crazy about offshore drilling?
LI: It's interesting because in 2013 Obama actually brought this up that shutdowns hurt the oil and gas industry because they couldn’t see effects to how their business is conducted, their schedules things like that.
CLIP: <OBAMA>] One of the things that happens when the government shutdown is new drilling permits are processed. So why would the Republicans say to the folks who are interested in drilling for oil. Sorry we can't let those things be processed until we have some negotiations and we have some cover that do what we're supposed to be doing anyway.
LI: Obama wanted them to see that effect because it would put pressure on Republicans to fix the shutdown. This time around Trump wants to make sure that Republicans aren't pressured about the shutdown. So a lot of these efforts seem like they're trying to soften the blow and make sure they don't get the blame from industries that are favorable to them.
SEAN: He's literally just like blunting the force of his own shutdown by doing this.
LI: Right. And that enables him to kind of keep it going for as long as he's interested in doing so.
SEAN: And in the meantime as he brings back more and more workers for offshore drilling, for food inspections, making them work without pay, is he getting until a murky legal waters?
LI: Yeah. He is. There's a law that actually was established in the late 1800s that basically says federal agencies aren't able to use money that Congress hasn't already given to them. So it's a little unclear how these agencies are bringing these services back if they don't actually have the funds to do so. The catch there is that the group that would be prosecuting any violations of this law is the Justice Department and they've never prosecuted a violation of this law in the past. So it's it's unlikely that they will. But it is a murky legal situation.
SEAN: Are the courts that would prosecute a case like this even functioning right now?
LI: They are until the end of this month and I think they've said that they are able to keep on going for a little while but it's unclear how long that can extend for.
SEAN: Yeah. Right. You mentioned last time you were on the show that there might be a lawsuit as a results of this and that previously federal employees got double their pay. Do we know of any lawsuits that have come from this shut down already?
LI: Several workers unions have filed a similar lawsuit to make sure that workers get compensated while they're on the job now and they actually asked for a temporary restraining order that would basically stop any workers who are on the job from working if they aren't getting paid. And a judge this week rejected that claim and said it would create too much chaos for the government.
SEAN: And in the meantime people are hurting?
SEAN: I heard on the Twitters this week that TSA agents at JFK Airport in New York had just sort of given up and were playing like explicit Kanye and Travis Scott songs.
CLIP: <KANYE> hoping to scoop scoop Didi.
SEAN: Are there other examples of people on the job just sort of throwing in the towel a little bit but still working?
CLIP: <KANYE> Whoop whoop dee dee scoop poop.
LI: Increasingly you're looking at people who aren't able to afford just basic necessities. So not even necessarily bills which maybe you could get a delay on from your bank or something like that. But like food for their children and you're seeing plenty of places around the country opening up food banks for government employees to go and get things to tide them over during the shutdown which is just nuts to think about.
SEAN: Do we have any idea how much the shutdown is costing the country?
LI:It's already in the billions of dollars.
SEAN: Like. How many billions?
LI: As of the end of last week. S&P Global ratings estimates that its costs $3.6 billion dollars if it keeps on going for another two weeks it will surpass that $5.7 billion dollar mark which ironically is how much Trump is currently demanding for his wall.
SEAN: So the shutdown will soon cost more than what the president even wanted?
LI: That's correct.
SEAN: I mean we've seen shutdowns before but have we’ve never seen a shutdown like this where the president is sort of like picking and choosing what he wants to bring back on in the sort of seemingly random fashion.
LI: Even in 2013 like Obama wanted people to feel the pain of services being shut down because he wanted the shutdown to end. And in this case because Trump doesn't necessarily want the shutdown to end because he wants to kind of maintain his position he is picking and choosing services that will make sure they both soften the impact and also potentially leave Republicans in a more favorable position.
SEAN: And we just don't even know if that's legal.
LI: There's definitely questions about legality.
SEAN Government sounds broke as fuck, Li.
LI: In a nutshell, yes.
SEAN: Ella Nilson, you cover the House for Vox. It increasingly seems like this shutdown is turning into a shutdown between the speaker of the House and Donald Trump. Is that fair?
ELLA: I think so. I mean I think that this kind of all started with Nancy Pelosi telling Donald Trump no.
ELLA: I think sort of the the beginning of all of this kind of went back to that very explosive televised meeting that Pelosi, Chuck Schumer the the leader of Senate Democrats, and Trump had in the White House and that was when they went in and most of it ended up being broadcast on national television. We got sort of this rare glimpse into seeing how Pelosi and Schumer were were dealing with Trump
CLIP: If we don't get what we want on way or another, whether that's through you, through the military, anything you want to call it
and that was the meeting where they basically got Trump to say
CLIP: I will shut down the government, absolutely and I am proud I;ll tell you what I am
proud to shutdown the government for border security.
ELLA: I will proudly own the government shutdown.
ELLA: Since then there have been more negotiations between Pelosi and Trump. I mean Trump tweeted after one of them the one where he supposedly slammed the table and said bye bye. Uh, she told him no. And we have to remember that under the last two years when Trump has had to deal with Republicans in leading the House over the last two years in the Senate he hasn't really been told the word no a lot.
ELLA: And Pelosi is the new leader of House Democrats and she's been speaker before under Republican and Democratic presidents. She's not afraid to tell the president of the United States the word no.
SEAN: And her telling the president no has only escalated this sort of tension between the two that really, really escalated this week it seems.
ELLA: Yeah. This week things really came to a head. So there had been these negotiations between Pelosi, Schumer, and Trump that hadn't really seemed to go anywhere. And so this week Pelosi kind of did this thing that people saw as her sort of playing hardball. She wrote Trump a letter suggesting that he move the date of the State of the Union until after the shutdown is resolved. But a lot of people saw this as her essentially uninviting him from delivering the State of the Union address at the House.
SEAM: Because he's like supposed to be invited to come to the House. It isn't just like he shows up whenever he wants.
ELLA: Exactly. The speaker invites the president to deliver the State of the Union at the House.
SEAN: Mmmm. And when was it supposed to happen?
ELLA: So it was supposed to happen on January 29. But basically what Pelosi said in her letter is all of the members of Congress are going to be there, the president, the vice president, the cabinet, Supreme Court members. It's there are just so many important people here that are all going to be in one place and you have Secret Service FBI all these people that aren't getting paid.
CLIP: <NEWSCAST> “If the president comes back to you and says to you no, I want
To give the State of Union at the capital on the day we agreed to. What will you do then? Will you allow it go forward?
<Pelosi> We’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. But we haven’t heard, very
silent more than 24 hours
SEAN: OK. So how does he react to this letter this letter saying that it wouldn't be fair to all of the security we would need for this political event if we held it during the shutdown.
ELLA: Right. So yesterday Pelosi holds her weekly press conference and she kind of had this like a little quip about well Trump's been very silent for the past 24 hours which usually isn't.
ELLA: And then we sort of all saw what he was why he was being so silent. So yesterday he wrote Pelosi a letter basically canceling this trip that she was doing to Afghanistan with other House Democrats to go over and you know meet with military officials, see service members. And he told them that their trip was canceled about an hour before they were supposed to leave.
ELLA: Which created like this mass confusion yesterday. There was like this bus of House Democrats that was just waiting outside the Capitol to like figure out if they were still leaving.
SEAN: They were like about to go to the airport.
ELLA :They were literally about to go to the airport and there was also like this concern about like no one really knew about this trip for security concerns.
ELLA : Because they're not really supposed to disclose it before you know the speaker of the House could on this trip. And so Trump was like you know essentially canceling the trip kind of blowing Pelosi's cover and being like you can still go if you want to fly commercial.
ELLA: So it was just this like, tit for tat, like you punch I'll punch back.
CLIP: <NEWSCAST> Do you view this as retaliation for your letter about the State of the
<PELOSI> I would hope not, I don’t think that the president would be that petty. Do you?
ELLA: I do want to say that there had sort of been some grumbling behind the scenes about the timing of Pelosi's trip I think because again there are people that are working without pay to make sure this trip happens. And I think everybody wants to sort of see the shutdown resolved before anybody goes on these trips.
SEAN: So, what you're saying is it's kind of a fair clap back from the president?
SEAN: If it's too much to ask security to oversee the state of the Union it's probably too much to ask security to oversee your trip to the Middle East.
ELLA: Right. But it is worth pointing out that I think Trump took his trip to Iraq technically when the government was in a shutdown it was a few weeks before it was right around. It was I think it was after Christmas. But you know he sort of did the same thing.
ELLA ELLA ELLA EY EY EY: So it was it was fine for him. But now not fine for Pelosi.
SEAN: What's Pelosi's strategy? Is it is it to just refuse the president this thing that her base doesn't want?
ELLA: Some people are looking at it that way but I think there it's a little bit more complicated. Pelosi is somebody that can negotiate on things. But there are two big things that she really just does not see eye to eye on Trump on that I think is making it hard for for talks to progress.
ELLA: One thing is that Trump lies all the time and the two of them just cannot agree on like a very basic set of facts on what the need for the border wall. You know he's saying it's because there are all these people pouring into our country, they're raping and murdering people, they're bringing drugs over the border. While Democrats might actually be able to negotiate with President Trump on border security that they feel reasonable including maybe you know a physical barrier this wall whether it's steel slats or whatever...
ELLA:: That he's talking about they just cannot agree with him on the reasons for this. They don't want to be seen as delivering him a win on his signature campaign promise on something that is built on lies basically.
ELLA: The second thing is that Pelosi sees herself as the head of a coequal branch of government to the president. The reason that we're in the shutdown is because former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan basically pulled this funding bill saying if it doesn't have this five billion dollars for Trump's border wall the president's not going to sign it and we're not going to send anything to him that he's not going to sign.
ELLA: Pelosi is saying you know you might have enough votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto or uh just a bill to open the government back up.Congress should act like a coequal branch of government rather than just consistently deferring to the president of the United States on whatever he wants. So, I think she in addition to sort of seeing it as a political duty, there is this element of separation of powers, this is my constitutional duty on this issue.
SEAN: And does she have her caucus behind her?
ELLA: She does, yeah. And at this point I mean polling numbers bear out that I think the majority of Americans see this as Trump and the Republicans’ fault.
ELLA: There was a Washington Post-ABC poll released earlier this week that showed that only 29 percent of Americans blamed Democrats.
ELLA: Compared to 53 percent of Americans blaming Trump and Republicans.
ELLA: So at this point Democrats are fully behind Pelosi and Trump has kind of been doing this strange thing this week where he was inviting moderate Democrats over to the White House. I mean I talked to some Democrats that that felt like he was sort of trying to pick people off and make it look like he was sort of bringing moderate Democrats that are from more conservative districts over to his side….
ELLA: But I think Democrats are really all united in in kind of blaming him for this and are behind Pelosi.
SEAN: So then how about congressional Republicans for example? If they're aware that the tide is turning and most Americans are against them on this, have they started to break a little bit?
ELLA: Not really. I mean the the real hang up is the Senate. House Democrats have sent nine funding bills over to the Senate and all of those bills are basically just running up into a wall if you will.
SEAN: Hah-hmmm. Nice.
ELLA: Yeah. And that is McConnell's refusal to bring them to the floor. There have been some signs that his caucus might be cracking a little bit specifically with more moderate Republican senators that are up for re-election in 2020.
ELLA: But right now McConnell is is holding pretty firm.
SEAN: Last week it felt like the resolution here might be a state of emergency and Trump would get his wall and the government would reopen.
ELLA: Well it would be a state of emergency. Trump's wall requests would get hung up in the courts and the government would reopen.
SEAN: Right. Yeah, I guess so.
But now that seems to be off the table, too. So is there just no resolution in sight?
ELLA: So Senate Republicans are basically shielding Trump from having to veto a spending bill by refusing to take it up in the Senate. So if they do decide ultimately if they are pressured enough to bring up a bill and vote on a spending bill and it passes it then goes to Trump's desk. And that would put him on the spot of having to actually veto a spending bill to reopen the government which there would be a ton of political pressure on him to sign that bill and for the government to reopen that could potentially be one way it ended really kind of forcing Trump to show his hand. Another way is if there was sufficient political pressure on Senate Republicans for them to override a Trump veto or if if Pelosi and Schumer decide that this has gone on long enough and that people really are suffering and they do feel forced to come to the table. But I really feel like right now we're still very much in a one-side-is-waiting-for-the-other-side-to-blink kind of mode.
Ella Nilsen covers Congress for Vox dot com.
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