OPINION — It’s Day 25 of the longest government shutdown in American history and there’s only one end in sight.
It’s not a compromise between Democrats and President Donald Trump. White House aides say the president is “dug in” on his demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the wall “immoral.” There is very little hope for a breakthrough between “dug in” and “immoral,” especially between two sides that both think they’ve got the moral high ground — and voters — on their side.
That’s why it’s time for Republican senators, who have spent so much time silent and on the sidelines of the Trump administration, to finally step up and end the shutdown, either by convincing the president to come off his stand or by collecting a veto-proof majority of GOP senators to join Democrats and reopen the government while the details of an immigration compromise get hammered out.
Yes, that could take years. But while Congress and the White House stay in their corners and the shutdown drags on, a genuine national emergency (and not the kind you have to declare) is beginning to take root.
Also watch: It’s official — longest shutdown ever
The most disturbing implications of the shutdown right now relate to national security and safety. With the Department of Justice among the unfunded agencies, huge swaths of federal law enforcement officers are working without pay. Yes, those federal employees will likely get back pay once the standoff is resolved, but in the meantime, funds for major operations and investigations are frozen entirely.
Federal agents may be on duty, but money for basic field and surveillance functions are dwindling to zero. “If I need to pay a source or order a wiretap, I can’t do that right now,” one agent told me. That includes money for ongoing counterterrorism operations.
Another of the affected agencies is the Federal Bureau of Prisons, where corrections officers are working overtime, without pay, to guard prisoners. With a backlog of unfilled job openings at some prisons, clerical and other employees often receive training to help fill extra shifts.
But those trainings are another casualty of the shutdown, so the extra help corrections officers usually get — not to mention their own paychecks — are nowhere to be found. “It’s just this un-American alternate universe that we’re in,” Chris Beasley, an unpaid federal corrections officer, told CNN on Monday.
An un-American alternate universe. Just let those words sink in and ask yourself what else is falling by the wayside during the shutdown that nobody will think about until it’s too late.
Will it be the unpaid TSA officers who do show up for work, even as others are forced to call in sick to work hourly jobs elsewhere to pay their bills? Six security checkpoints had to close at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday because of a shortage of screeners. At that same airport, the nation’s busiest, a passenger managed to board a Delta flight for Japan with a gun two weeks into the shutdown. The only reason TSA officials found out about the weapon was because the passenger alerted them once he arrived in Japan.
President Trump has talked for years about his concern over national security — especially at the southern border, but the agents who guard that border are not being paid. Nor are the Coast Guard officers intercepting drugs and smugglers in the waters just off the coast. And what about the American jobs the president says undocumented immigrants are taking from American workers? Throughout the shutdown, the E-Verify system that companies use to make sure they’re hiring legal workers has been shut down, right along with the government.
If making the country safer is the goal, the shutdown is doing the exact opposite. It’s putting Americans in greater danger for no strategic reason or effect.
Beyond the Beltway
Above and beyond the nationwide safety concerns, the local impacts of the shutdown are real and growing, especially in red states that Republicans represent.
In Texas, nearly 3,000 employees at Houston’s Johnson Space Center are furloughed, including Holly Griffith, an engineer who works on life support systems for the Orion space project, which is being designed for a return to the moon. She told the Houston Chronicle she worries about NASA’s international partners and how the shutdown will delay the space program — not to mention her own salary.
In Alabama, Florida and Georgia, where Hurricane Michael hammered businesses, homes, and farms, FEMA has stopped processing claims for flood insurance or making payments for approved claims.
In other farm states such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, farmers have been waiting for disaster assistance to make up for the Chinese tariffs President Trump imposed months ago. Now that money won’t reach farmers until after the shutdown.
And in Western states with massive amounts of national park land and forest that have been ravaged by fires, trainings for federal firefighters who battle those blazes are put on hold, too. The National Fire Academy, which trains those first responders, remains closed during the shutdown. A border wall has nothing to do with any of those critical needs.
For all the Americans hurting because of the shutdown, either directly or indirectly, a handful in Washington are insulated from its real effects, including new members of Congress from both parties. If you have a new district office that’s opened since Dec. 22, please thank the General Services Administration employee who did it for you — but hasn’t been paid since before Christmas.
The president may or may not declare a national emergency in the coming days, but the emergency is already here. Republicans had the numbers to avoid a shutdown when they controlled both houses of Congress three weeks ago, and they still have the numbers in the Senate to override a presidential veto and end it today. And if the wall seems like a problem, just wait until the debt ceiling fight later this year.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.