A few days ago, a tweet from Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw caught my attention. He mentioned an effort by House Republicans to force a vote on a bill that would have ensured that federal employees at agencies shuttered by the partial government shutdown -- including furloughed workers -- would receive their first paychecks of 2019. This push was made in the form of a 'motion to recommit,' one of the few legislative tools available to the lower chamber minority, and it was soundly defeated, despite half-a-dozen Democrats crossing the aisle to join the GOP. Crenshaw said this development had not been reported widely, and he was right. Even I hadn't heard about it:
Big deal that never got reported:— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) January 23, 2019
Last week, House GOP voted to pay federal employees their 1st paycheck of 2019, despite shutdown. Only 6 Dems voted with us. It failed.
Dem priority is not paying workers or opening gov't. It is opposing Trump. https://t.co/i9TKGIjRnY
It was covered in a handful of places, with little fanfare. Here's a write-up from The Hill:
The House rejected a GOP measure to pay furloughed workers but keep the government closed in a 222-195 vote. Six Democrats voted for the GOP measure, offered as an alternative to a Democratic bill to reopen the government. The Democratic bill, which would have funded the government through Feb. 28, is expected to be approved but is dead on arrival in the Senate. A vote on that measure will be postponed until next week...“While Democrats flail under their misguided leadership, Republicans continue to offer solutions. This time we are working to get federal employees paid and give Democrats time to negotiate an end to the shutdown,” a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in an email to reporters.
Yesterday, it happened again (see update), with more Democratic moderates peeling off to side with Republicans:
BREAKING: For second time in two weeks, House Dems (minus 10 defectors) defeat GOP effort to ensure federal workers from closed agencies — including furloughed — would receive their first paychecks of ‘19. Pelosi Inc. voted no. Because they just care so much! #TheMoreYouKnow ????— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 23, 2019
Democrats' top talking point throughout this entire partial shutdown has been the plight of unpaid federal workers. Many are living paycheck to paycheck, they've explained, and are therefore struggling to make ends meet during this political standoff. House Republicans responded by seeking a narrow method to pay these people. Nancy Pelosi and her party have now twice defeated these attempts, calling them "political stunts." I wonder if the government employees would be as dismissive of bipartisan efforts to pay them. What's useful about this exercise is that it's clarifying: In spite of their protestations and theatrics, Democratic leadership's top priority is not helping these workers. It's refusing to give in to Donald Trump's core demand that precipitated this standoff. That's an understandable position to hold for any number of reasons, but Democrats should be honest about it.
Going along with the GOP to send paychecks to 800,000 federal employees would reduce the urgency of the situation, and therefore diminish Democrats' leverage -- just as Trump agreeing to reopen government with no assurance that he'll get any additional barriers would be an abandonment of his leverage. Democrats' power play requires the endurance of their top talking point, so they've decided not to take piecemeal steps to pay the employees whose plight they lament every single day. The pain must go on. They're saying so with their votes; they should also say so out loud. In the meantime, as much of the polling continues to look ugly for the president, I'd point out that support for 'The Wall' has increased in the latest Fox News poll, in which a 56 percent majority of Americans say the State of the Union Address should proceed as normal. In a separate national survey, a similar majority said the president's weekend offer to Democrats is a good faith effort to reach a compromise that should be taken seriously:
The Hill-HarrisX poll found that 56 percent of voters aware of Trump's proposal believed that the president's offer should be taken as a "good faith" offer to start negotiations over a partial government shutdown that is now in its fifth week. Forty-four percent of respondents said it was not serious offer and that congressional Democrats should reject it. By a margin of 55-45 percent, a majority of independent voters said they believed Trump's proposal was something Democrats should consider to be a starting point.
More Democrats are breaking ranks on substance, too; it's not just Republicans feeling some heat back home. Nancy Pelosi certainly had, and perhaps still has, the upper hand politically on this matter. But she's bungled the petty SOTU episode by insulting the Secret Service, and is on more perilous ground after Trump's weekend offer -- especially as she instructs her caucus to defeat legislative vehicles to pay federal employees as the shutdown stretches on. She is taking zero steps to realistically resolve this ongoing mess. In case you missed it yesterday, I'll leave you with my piece outlining an imperfect shutdown exit strategy that could at least be palatable to both sides:
Pelosi should put real $ for new barriers on negotiating table, which would only commence AFTER 4-week CR temporarily but immediately reopens govt & gets people paid. Dems don’t back down on negotiating sequence & Trump gets more border barriers. If talks fail, shutdown 2.0: https://t.co/OaZcLWWMnz— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 23, 2019
Also, over in the Senate, here's Mitch McConnell making his pitch for the compromise bill that will almost certainly fall well short of the requisite 60 votes:
UPDATE - With 13 Democratic defections this time, Nancy Pelosi's House majority again shot down another Republican effort to get paychecks to these federal workers. The GOP motion would send the Democratic bill back to committee, to be replaced with the following verbiage: "Provide for the payments of salaries for federal employees during the entirety of the lapse in appropriations that began on December 22." The roll call is here. Rep. Liz Cheney is now asking Democrats to stage an "intervention" with Pelosi: