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Nevada federal employees urge Trump, lawmakers to avoid shutdown

Updated February 13, 2019 - 9:47 pm

WASHINGTON — With a deadline looming and President Donald Trump weighing options, Nevada federal employees were in the nation’s capital Wednesday to urge Congress and the White House to avoid another painful shutdown.

Becky Esquivel, a Transportation Security Administration officer, and Cris Stubitz, a National Park Service employee at Lake Mead, were among a half-dozen workers from Nevada who joined a news conference in the Longworth House Office Building to make their case.

Stubitz, of Henderson, said the economic pain from the past shutdown was crippling. She and her husband, Joe, are federal workers. Luckily, he continued to be paid throughout the 35-day shutdown, the longest in U.S. history; she had to apply for unemployment.

“We were depleting savings, talking to creditors, trying to prioritize which bills to pay first,” she told the Review-Journal.

Joe Stubitz said the financial crush came right at Christmas, noting “we’ve got three kids.”

“We had to use our savings that entire month,” he said.

“I’m hopeful the president has learned his lesson,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who with Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., arranged the news conference with federal workers.

A bicameral, bipartisan conference committee was finalizing a bill Wednesday to address border security that would include $1.3 billion for fencing but no money for a border wall that Trump has demanded.

Trump said the White House was waiting to comb through the compromise bill, looking for “land mines,’’ but appeared to rule out another government shutdown.

“I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,” he told reporters at the White House. But he did not rule out closing federal departments or declaring a national emergency to take unspent funds from elsewhere to build a wall.

“We’re going to look at the legislation when it comes, and I’ll make a determination then,” Trump said.

House vote expected Thursday

House Democratic leaders said a vote on the compromise spending bill was expected late Thursday, following funerals for former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told the Review-Journal the bill would pass in the House, with support from Democrats and Republicans.

“I sincerely feel it will be a strong bipartisan vote,” said Cuellar, who helped negotiate the compromise bill and is part of the Democratic leadership team.

Senate Republicans, several with re-election races in 2020, are pressing the president to avoid another shutdown and sign the spending bill, contending that it provides a down payment on the border wall, although no funds for such a physical barrier are in the legislation.

Lawmakers are sensitive to the economic pain caused by the last government shutdown, which caused a loss of $11 billion in activity and a permanent loss of $3 billion to the economy, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

A human face was put on that loss at the House news conference attended by Nevada federal workers.

“People are still trying to recover from this,” said Esquivel, the TSA officer and steward with the American Federation of Government Employees.

Roughly 3,500 federal employees in the Silver State were forced to miss two paychecks during the last shutdown, Horsford said, adding that it “inflicted real pain on families.”

Although federal workers received back pay, many federal contractors and small businesses that cater or serve federal workers lost revenue during the closure of 25 percent of the government over the border wall fight.

Trump sought $5.7 billion from Congress to build a portion of the border wall, a campaign theme in 2016 when he said Mexico would finance the wall’s construction.

Although the White House signaled the president would sign a stopgap spending bill in December, criticism from conservative pundits prompted an about-face by Trump, resulting in the shutdown.

Democrats, who won control of the House in November, have refused to include wall construction funding in the bill.

Less funding for barriers

The compromise bill, in fact, has less funding for border barriers than the Senate originally agreed to last year.

“Trump lost out,” Cuellar said. “So much for the great dealer.”

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter pilloried the president again Wednesday for appearing ready to sign a bill that provides less than he sought a month ago.

“We thought Trump was going to be different,” Coulter said on Twitter.

The president has threatened to declare a national emergency at the border, citing caravans of asylum seekers from Central America, drug trafficking and violence by undocumented immigrants, as the need to build a wall.

Trump administration officials also are weighing an executive action that would allow the White House to find unspent funds in federal programs or projects and redirect them toward wall construction.

The president told a conference of county sheriffs and city police chiefs Wednesday that the wall was “on its way.”

“And it’s a big wall,” Trump said. “They would be able to climb Mount Everest a lot easier, I think. But it’s happening.”

Lawmakers in both parties said a presidential attempt to circumvent Congress and its constitutional role to appropriate funds for federal departments and programs would be challenged in court.

Former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted last week in a Review-Journal interview that Trump would still make the national emergency declaration to save face with conservative pundits and claim he did all he could to fund his campaign promise.

Horsford, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, warned that the president’s threat would target various local projects, including those by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Nevada congressman spoke Wednesday with Brig. Gen. Kim Colloton about Army Corps projects and funding that could be identified by the Trump administration as it seeks to find unspent funds for border wall construction.

Texas, California and other states have urged the Trump administration not to take unspent disaster funding for wall construction and to increase money to offset damages incurred by wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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