From Government Shutdown to National Emergency

6 mins read

By Maddie Aitken ’19

On February 15, President Trump, speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House, declared a national emergency so he can secure the funding he needs to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. “We don’t control our own border. We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we’re going to do it – one way or the other we have to do it.”

This national emergency comes on the heels of the government shutdown President Trump declared on December 22, and kept going until January 25. It was the longest government shutdown in American history. He shut down the government because his demands for $5.7 billion to fund the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the U.S. were not approved by Congress.

President Trump ended the shutdown on January 25, thus reopening the government, but only until February 15. That three week window was all the time the Senate and the House had to come up with a compromise that would satisfy Democrats, Republicans, and President Trump. The deal was for them to come up with a plan by then, or President Trump would shut down the government again.

On February 15, when the bipartisan budget deal Congress created was presented to President Trump, he signed it, which means there will not be another government shutdown. However, the deal does not include adequate funding for President Trump’s wall, which is what caused him to declare a national emergency, as he threatened many times since the shutdown.

Presidents can declare national emergencies as they see fit, which can be problematic, because there is no widely accepted idea of what actually constitutes a national emergency. When the U.S. faces significant issues, it is up to the sitting president to decide whether the issue is a national emergency. If they believe it is, they can declare a national emergency, which is what President Trump did.

The national emergency allows President Trump access to Pentagon funds that are earmarked but have no signed contracts. He would be able to pull from military construction funds and civil works projects, including projects for infrastructure repairs. Using various avenues, he could collect the $5.7 billion he was requesting for the border wall. In a national emergency, presidents do have to notify Congress of where they’re pulling money from, but they don’t need approval from Congress to actually take the money, which means President Trump is essentially on his own.

It is yet to be seen where the national emergency will take us, but the effects of the government shutdown were colossal.

Government shutdowns occur when the House, Senate and president can’t agree on a spending plan for proposed legislation. There have been 20 previous government shutdowns, but this shutdown, which lasted 35 days, is the longest ever.

During shutdowns, the parts of the government that are deemed “non-essential” are shut down until a funding agreement is reached. In this shutdown, the federal departments that were affected included Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture, Treasury, State, Interior, Transportation, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development.

This means there were 800,000 federal workers that were furloughed or forced to work without pay. The length of the shutdown meant that most federal employees missed two paychecks, and the sad reality is that many of these workers live paycheck to paycheck. So when the government was shut down and they weren’t being paid – regardless of whether they still had to go to work or not – many people were put in desperate situations.

IRS employee Horatio Fenton said “I don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from. I have a mortgage. I have regular, everyday expenses, so I’m very concerned right now.” Single mom Leisyka Lee, who has worked for the Bureau of Land Management for 17 years, shared Fenton’s sentiments, saying, “I live paycheck to paycheck. I earn a living wage when I work. I love my job, and I just want to get back to work.”

President Trump took no heed to these vast numbers of affected people across the nation, despite the fact that many of the people affected supported him during his 2016 campaign and first two years in office. Significant numbers of Trump’s votes came from people in rural areas across the country, and in the past two years, most have continued to support him, but the government shutdown has caused many rural farmers to lose loans, payments and other services, and they are reporting this has pushed their support to a breaking point, which may not bode well for President Trump in the 2020 election.

In Georgia, a pecan farmer was unable to buy his first orchard because the local Farm Service Agency office that would have been in charge of his loan application was shut down. And there is a small dairy in upstate New York that is on the brink of ruin, run by a couple that is on the brink of bankruptcy. They’ve accumulated $350,000 in debt after 31 of their cows died of pneumonia, and their last chance was an emergency federal farm loan, but the government shutdown meant they can’t get their money.

Jeff Witte, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and New Mexico’s agriculture secretary said, “You had farmers who were in the process of closing a loan or getting an operating loan. Now there’s nobody there to service those.”

The shutdown ended on January 25, when President Trump eventually agreed to Congress’ proposal to temporarily reopen closed government agencies, even though he had not, and still has not, received the funding he was asking for. Even though the shutdown is over, its effects are still being widely felt.

Federal agencies are still reeling and trying to get back into the swing of work. The shutdown caused court cases to be frozen, sidelined investigations (including into the one into Facebook’s data security practices), curtailed drug reviews and food safety inspections and made the IRS fall behind on preparations to handle the millions of tax returns that have started coming in with the start of tax filing season at the end of January, to name a few examples.

One of the most visible symbols of the shutdown was the damage at national parks. National parks across the country were left unstaffed because of the shutdown, and as a result, members of the public vandalized the parks, including leave human excrement and toilet paper on trailers. At Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, trees were cut down by visitors to make way for offroad vehicles.

President Trump has received backlash about the shutdown from both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, as well as those directly affected by the shutdown, criticized him for shutting down the government, especially because of the length of the shutdown and the number of federal employees affected. Senator Jon Tester, a Democratic member of Congress from Montana, said, “He shut it down. Was it worth it? It’s the most stupid shutdown I’ve ever seen in my life…Let’s hope there can be honest negotiations, not moving the goalposts.”

Tensions are high on the right side, too, but for the opposite reason. Conservatives are bashing President Trump for agreeing to end the shutdown without securing financial support for the border wall, because he promised he wouldn’t reopen the government without his demanded money. In a fiery tweet, Conservative pundit Ann Coulter said, “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”

President Trump was already in hot water on both sides, and now, with the declaration of a national emergency, there are even more people opposing him. California Senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Kamala Harris said, “We don’t need a wall. Instead, we should address the actual emergencies facing our country – everything from gun violence to the opioid crisis.” Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, said, Republicans “should have some dismay to the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.”

Most Democrats in Congress agree with the sentiments delivered by Harris and Pelosi, and overall, the left side is united in their opposition of the border wall, especially because President Trump has called a national emergency to build it.

However, the Republicans are divided. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey agrees with the Democrats. He said “I never thought that was a good idea. I still don’t.” He also called for the matter to be “resolved through the legislative process.” On the other hand, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been known to support President Trump’s decisions in the past, said, “I think this is a political fight worth having.”

The way the funding and building of President Trump’s desired border wall will pan out remains to be seen, but the wall will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the U.S., especially with 2020 presidential elections approaching.

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