Friday will be day 28 of the partial government shutdown, but Thursday’s developments offered little hope that closed federal departments and agencies would be reopening soon — and little to allay concerns about dysfunction in U.S. politics.
In an apparent retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s letter Wednesday requesting that the president delay his State of the Union address or deliver it in writing because of the shutdown, President Trump on Thursday abruptly cancelled an unannounced trip to Afghanistan that Pelosi and other Democratic House members had reportedly been set to leave for at 3 p.m. ET.
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over,” Trump wrote in a letter to the House speaker. “In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown.”
Trump added that Pelosi could still make the trip by taking commercial flights if she wanted.
The House speaker and congressional delegations typically use military planes for overseas travel, and Trump, as commander in chief, postponed their ability to use such aircraft, Reuters said. And Politico reported that a White House official said Trump had canceled all congressional delegations abroad because of the shutdown.
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesperson, said on Twitter that the purpose of the planned congressional delegation to Afghanistan was to thank members of the military for their service and to receive national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines. He said the trip required a stop in Brussels for pilot rest, and that the lawmakers were scheduled to meet with NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies there “to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance.”
- “It's actually really revealing that Trump appears to believe the only reason an elected official would go to Afghanistan or Egypt was for PR reasons, as if it's a fun photo op instead of part of the responsibilities of governing,” Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare and a CNN national security analyst, tweeted. Reps. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, and Eliot Engel, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, were reportedly among those making the trip with Pelosi.
- "The president's decision to disclose a trip that a speaker is making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way,” Schiff said.
- “Why would she want to go overseas with the government shutdown? ... I couldn’t imagine she would even think about going,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
- “One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted. “President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate.”
The bottom line: There’s still no sign that the government will be reopening anytime soon. The stakes are high, but the political brawling seems more like middle school.
Other Shutdown Developments
State Department calls back furloughed workers: The State Department said Thursday that is calling back its furloughed workers — some 8,000 staffers — and “taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries” despite the shutdown. State Department employees are expected to return to work next week and will be paid for work performed beginning on January 20, though they will not be paid for the first two pay periods that occurred during the shutdown until after the agency is funded.
“Officials said a review of the State Department’s various accounts came up with enough money to pay half a month of payroll,” The Washington Post reported. “Beyond that, officials cautioned they will have to see if they can identify other funds that can be tapped should the shutdown extend beyond that.”
Furloughed workers will get back pay: Trump on Wednesday signed legislation approving back pay for some 380,000 federal employees furloughed because of the shutdown once government funding is restored. The 420,000 employees who have been required to work without pay were already assured of receiving back pay.
Quote of the Day
“We are getting crushed! Why can’t we get a deal?”
– President Trump to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, after watching some recent coverage of the shutdown, according to The New York Times. The Times’s Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni report that the president “has had recurring moments of frustration as he takes in negative news coverage of the shutdown,” but also that he has told aides that he believes the country will not remember the shutdown, but it will remember his fighting to protect the southern border.