President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that the 800,000 federal workers who are facing a second missed paycheck at the end of this week should essentially borrow groceries to get through what has become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
“Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else,” Trump said of federal workers during a meeting on trade at the White House. “And I think… that they will work along. I know banks are working along.”
“And that’s what happens in times like this,” Trump continued. “They know the people, they’ve been dealing with them for years, and they work along.”
Trump’s apparent suggestion that local grocery stores will let furloughed federal workers take food on an IOU was offered as an explanation for comments made Thursday by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who questioned why federal workers who aren’t getting paid would need to turn to food banks for help. Ross, himself a millionaire, said workers should simply take out emergency loans to cover their living expenses.
“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest,” Ross said. “But the idea that it’s ‘paycheck or zero’ is not a really valid idea.”
Those comments were echoed Thursday by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who praised federal workers for “volunteering” through the shutdown because they support Trump.
“God bless them. They’re working for free. They’re volunteering,” Kudlow told reporters. “But they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President Trump and they’re working as hard as ever.”
The shutdown shows no signs of ending as it heads into its 35th day. Trump insists he will veto any funding bill that does not include money for a wall along the southwest border, an idea Democrats in Congress have roundly rejected. Two proposed funding measures failed in the Senate on Thursday.
After the votes failed, Trump and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed off the president’s $5 billion funding demand, with Trump saying he would be willing to accept a “prorated down payment” on the wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met in the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, but there are no details on what deal, if any, they were discussing. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected the down-payment compromise.
“That is not a reasonable agreement between the senators,” Pelosi told CNN.
Frustration among federal workers and contractors continued to grow Thursday as agencies like the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which includes the nation’s air traffic controllers, grapple with “sick outs,” low staffing levels, and long hours for employees who are working without pay.
The National Air Traffic Controller’s Association put out a dramatic statement with the Air Line Pilots Association International and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA warning that the shutdown could stretch the country’s civil aviation system to the breaking point.
“In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break,” the unions said. “It is unprecedented.”
The current shutdown spares military salaries, but members of the Coast Guard, which falls under the Homeland Security Department, are working without pay. The Coast Guard said Thursday that the families of guardsmen who are currently deployed without pay won’t receive a death benefit if they’re killed in the line of duty during the shutdown.
Earlier this week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee union said its members may not return to work for tax season during the shutdown if they’re experiencing a financial hardship, raising the possibility that millions of tax refunds could be delayed.
Trump’s popularity has taken a hit as the shutdown drags on, with just 40 percent of registered voters approving of his job performance in the most recent Morning Consult poll. Morning Consult found that 49 percent of voters lay responsibility for the shutdown at Trump’s door, compared while 35 percent who blame congressional Democrats.
In a separate CBS poll that ended January 21, 71 percent of respondents said that Trump’s border wall is not worth shutting down the federal government.
As federal workers across the country have queued up at food banks, taken out loans, and rationed life-saving medicine to get by without a paycheck, Trump administration officials have continued to insist many federal workers support the shutdown.
“I love them,” Trump told reporters Thursday of federal workers. “I respect them. I really appreciate the great job they are doing. Many of those people that are not getting paid are totally in favor of what we’re doing. Because they know the future of this country depends on having a strong border. Especially a strong southern border.”