Hundreds of federal workers, contractors and supporters marched to the White House on Thursday demanding an end the U.S. government shutdown.
The protest came on the 20th day of the partial government shutdown that has resulted in the closure of nine federal departments, leaving thousands of employees and contractors without pay.
“We don’t want a wall. We just want to work, simple as that,” De’Neal Gilliam, a furloughed employee at the Internal Revenue Service, told The Globe Post outside the White House, adding she feels her and her fellow employees are being treated as “pawns.”
Renewed attempts from Democrats in Congress to pass legislation to reopen the government were unsuccessful Thursday, as Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bills to the floor for a vote.
On December 19, the Senate unanimously passed a spending bill that would have kept the government open through February. As the House prepared to vote on the bill the next day, President Donald Trump announced he would not sign any bill that did not include at least $5 billion for his proposed border “wall.”
According to experts, a full wall across the nearly 4,000-mile-long U.S. Mexican border would cost between $20 and 50 billion.
Hundreds of federal workers, contractors and supporters spilling into the street in front of the AFL-CIO building, just down the road from the White House. They’re chanting, “we want our pay!” #ShutdownProtest #DC pic.twitter.com/7v4Qt1NPey
— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) January 10, 2019
Jeffrey David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employee, told the crowd near the White House that his union would continue to fight for workers until the government is reopened.
“They can bring the United States government to its knees, but we’re going to be fighting, we’re going to be marching, we’re going to be standing up, and we are going to make sure to hold Mitch McConnell accountable,” he said.
Trump was not in the White House while protesters gathered outside, having left Thursday morning en route to the U.S. border in Texas where he plans to meet with border patrol agents to be briefed on what he’s deemed a “border crisis.”
Speaking to reporters before his departure from the White House, Trump downplayed the plight of federal workers going without pay when asked if he’s considered the human pain the shutdown is causing.
“You know who has more human pain? The parents of people who had children killed by an illegal immigrant that should have never been in the country,” he said.
On Wednesday, Trump stormed out of meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer after they refused to agree to his funding demands.
The prior evening, Trump made his case for a border wall during a nationally televised address from the Oval Office, claiming the U.S. faces a crisis of “uncontrolled, illegal migration.”
Furloughed federal workers protest Trump's shutdown in march to White House https://t.co/IfOBWtfQBb
— Josh C Costner (@judaslovesyou) January 10, 2019
Responding to the address, Senator Bernie Sanders said the U.S. faces many crises, but not one at the border.
“The president has stated tonight that this country faces a national emergency. Well, he’s right, but it is an emergency and crisis that he himself has created,” he said. “As we speak, some 800,000 federal employees are going without pay … our federal employees deserve to be treated with respect, not held hostage as political pawns.”
A record number of children and families, predominantly from Central America, have been arriving at the U.S. border seeking asylum protection in recent months. The total number of illegal border crossings, however, remain well below historic heights in the 1990’s.
More on the Subject
In poignant testimonials in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, workers from offices like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said many of their colleagues faced swelling financial crises, unable to cover daycare costs, make mortgage payments or pay other bills.
“Many of our professionals are single mothers who are being forced to work without pay, and still have the responsibility to pay for childcare and other expenses, like gas to get to work,” said Eric Young, a union representative for Bureau of Prison employees, the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the nation.
Many workers are living “paycheck to paycheck” but are embarrassed to admit it, said Holly Salamido, an employee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a leader in the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
They are missing car payments, risking having their children removed from daycare, and are facing eviction, all events that can hurt a person’s credit rating, which creates lasting financial problems.