WASHINGTON — Even as hundreds of thousands of federal workers are running out of money or fear they soon will, the two people with the most control over when they receive their next paycheck — President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — still aren’t talking.
And they’re far from the only politicians avoiding each other in the Capitol or getting out of Dodge as the partial government shutdown stretches into its 28th day. The House of Representatives has already left town for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and won’t be back for four days, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed his chamber to leave Washington, so they won’t be back for 10 days.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), whose state is home to the third-highest number of federal workers in the nation, protested and pushed for the chamber to stay in session even though the vast majority of members have already left. But without lawmakers in town, negotiations can’t really go anywhere.
“It’s maddening,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told VICE News as he rushed through the basement of the Capitol. “There’s nothing happening. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re not able to do it, unfortunately.”
So while around 800,000 federal employees are now close to going a full month without receiving a check, in Trump’s Washington the current response to the shutdown remains tit for tat, or silence. And frustration is growing.
State of the union
First Pelosi suggested Trump put his State of the Union on hold until the shutdown was over, or submit it in writing. Then Trump grounded the military flight that was to take Pelosi to Belgium, Afghanistan, and Egypt, suggesting she was welcome to fly commercial.
“For Nancy Pelosi to withdraw the offer because she’s afraid of hearing what he has to say shows incredible insecurity on their part,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told a bunch of reporters just off the House floor.
“Oh, bullshit,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told VICE News at the Capitol in response to Scalise’s comments. “That’s just baloney.”
Garamendi said it’s dangerous to hold a State of the Union while parts of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are closed.
“The State of the Union has the entire American government in one place. It is a major security issue,” Garamendi said. “It’s planning. It’s all of the other pieces of it. There’s a threat assessment that hasn’t been occurring.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Trump’s grounding of Pelosi “a return serve” to her suggestion of cancelling the State of the Union before an aide whisked him away.
“It's very frustrating”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said there was “nothing encouraging, quite frankly” on the negotiations, while walking back to her office from a Senate vote. “It’s very frustrating.”
“There’s always been talks, and maybe not public talks but behind the scenes talks. I don’t get a sense of much of that going on.”
The unwillingness of Trump, Pelosi and McConnell to even pretend to seriously engage has senior legislators, like Capito, troubled.
“There’s always been talks, and maybe not public talks but behind the scenes talks. I don’t get a sense of much of that going on,” said Capito, who has served in Washington for close to two decades. “It’s just not a good situation.”
And with new polls showing that voters are blaming the GOP almost 2 to 1 for the shutdown, Democrats are feeling more sure of their position, which doesn’t bode well for the government workers if Democratic leaders continue to refuse to cave to Trump’s only red line.
“If that’s the case, then we’re in for an extended, long-term shutdown,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the far-right Freedom Caucus and a close Trump ally, told reporters at the Capitol as many of his House colleagues were already on their way to the airport to kick off their intended weekend.
Stopped in an elevator in the basement of the Capitol, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he expects things to get a lot worse before they get better.
“Welcome to 2019,” Rubio told VICE News as he caught an elevator in the basement of Capitol. “I think it’s going to get crazier.”
Cover: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the media as (L-R) Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. John Thune (R-SD), President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) listen at the U.S. Capitol after the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon January 09, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)