President Donald Trump repeatedly ignored questions about federal workers affected by the ongoing government shutdown on Friday, telling reporters at a Rose Garden press conference that the best safety net for those worried about their stalled paychecks was a steel border wall.
“It’s very important that we have great border security. It will be over with sooner than people think,” Trump said in response to questions about the shutdown, which entered its 14th day Friday morning.
“I will do whatever we have to do,” he continued. “If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we’re going to do that. Many of those [federal workers], most of those people, that really have not been and will not be getting their money in at this moment, those people in many cases are the biggest fan of what we’re doing.”
Pressed specifically on whether he had a plan in place for workers living paycheck to paycheck who needed the money for things like medicine, Trump added, “The safety net is having a strong border. We’re going to be safe. I’m not talking about economically. But, ultimately, economically. I really believe that these people, many of the people that we’re talking about, many of the people you’re discussing, I really believe that they agree with what we’re doing.”
According to a survey by Government Business Council and GovExec.com, conducted in December, approximately 71 percent of federal workers oppose the shutdown, with 22 percent in support. Of those who support the shutdown, nine in 10 say they back Trump’s fight for wall funding.
In response to several follow-up questions, the president insisted employees working without pay or furloughed would be able to handle any financial issues that arose from not getting their paychecks on time, and suggested landlords “be nice and easy” to any tenants affected by the shutdown.
“We have a bigger subject,” he said. “It’s called the security of our nation. Including terrorism, please. Okay.”
Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been affected by the shutdown which began on December 21 after Republicans, supportive of Trump’s $5 billion border wall funding demand, and Democrats could not come to an agreement to keep the government open. Many of those workers have since taken to social media to express their concerns and plead for an end to the shutdown, using the hashtag #ShutdownStories.
Democrats have thus far been pointed in their criticisms of the border wall, refusing to give in to Trump’s requests, and several Republicans have since defected, backing a Democrat-led House proposal to re-open several government agencies and fund the Department of Homeland Security for one month.
The measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised to shut down any legislation not approved by Trump himself.
Furloughed workers, in the meantime, have been advised by the Office of Personnel Management, which handles HR matters for federal employees, to consult their “personal attorneys” for legal assistance and barter their services in exchange for partial or lowered rent payments. Some have also said they are considering taking out loans to cover costs of living, and others may be forced to cancel travel for family emergencies or personal trips because they can no longer afford it.
Though most employees will receive back-pay once the government re-opens, contracted employees, including janitors, security guards, cafeteria workers, and hospitality workers working at federal facilities, may never be paid, BuzzFeed noted Friday.