Washignton - Amid public pressure and several security problems piling up in airports, President Donald Trump agreed on the plan proposed by Democrats to put an end to the partial federal shutdown without obtaining the funds to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
35 days into the shutdown - which has affected 25 percent of the federal government- Trump agreed to the same proposal made by Democrats for over a month: to fully reopen the federal government and then negotiate security measures.
Trump had insisted that any legislation to reopen the federal government had to include $ 5.7 billion for the border wall.
As part of the agreement, both the Senate and House approved the plan to fund the government for three weeks, until February 15 by voice vote. The measure funds offices such as the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Justice and Commerce affected by the partial shutdown and Congress will set up conference committee to try to reach a deal on the Department of Homeland Security.
It only took a few minutes to ratify the measures both in the House and Senate reflecting the contradictions of the longest federal shutdown in history.
However, at a press conference in the White House, President Trump reminded Americans that if they cannot reach a deal to fund the border wall, he has “a powerful alternative”, threatening to declare a national emergency and allocate funds through an administrative order. “No border security plan can ever work without a physical barrier,” said Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic minority leader Charles Schumer (New York), have always insisted that any debate on border security should take place after reopening the government. Although Trump rejected that idea, the last days show how Republicans seem to be losing the public opinion battle over shutdown, 53-34, according to The Washington Post polls.
Reports over the shutdown further complicating due to limitations in access to housing subsidies, food assistance and even affecting federal courts pictured a difficult scenario. The situation threatened to turn into a major crisis due to the lack of air traffic controllers, which adversely affected flight safety.
Hours before the announcement of the agreement, La Guardia airport in New York had to temporarily cancel flights, and in there were delays reported in other airports.
Besides, six Republican senators wound up voting for the Democrats proposal to reopen federal offices without conditions.
Although Congress approved a measure providing retroactive payment and Trump signed it into law, yesterday 800,000 federal employees - including 4,500 on the island – did not receive their paychecks. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross fueled the anger of workers when he said that he did not “quite understand” why federal employees who missed their paychecks had resorted food pantries when they could take out loans.
"It was obvious that Trump could not withstand the public pressure over the shutdown any longer," said José Javier Colón Morera, Political Science professor at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
In December, during a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump told Senate Democratic Minority leader Schumer that he took full responsibility for the shutdown. “That was a reckless attitude,” said Colón Morera.
Speaker Pelosi - who always said that all federal offices should reopen before negotiating border security measures- said that differences in public policy should never be a reason to close the government. "Democrats in the Senate and the House were united behind this position throughout the shutdown and ultimately this agreement endorses our position,” added Schumer.
According to The Washington Post, on January 2, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) said that accepting a resolution that only extends the budget of the offices affected by the partial shutdown - without funds for the border wall - would mark an end to Trump’s presidency.
Yesterday, Graham said on Twitter that he hopes “Congress - in a bipartisan fashion - will work with the President and take advantage of this moment”.
Relief in Puerto Rico
Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares said he hoped that reopening the federal government will allow the release of relief funds for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.
Rosselló Nevares said he was “glad that we can restore the role of reconstruction more effectively,” and added that reconstruction did not stop “at any time, but the intensity…dropped a bit.”
Meanwhile, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat said that his intention is to advance, until February 15, the disbursement of funds for public housing, including most of the first $ 1.5 billion package from the Community Development Block Grant For Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR).
Gil Enseñat anticipated that they we will try to get most of the operation funds for Section 8 and Section 9, that are used for rental subsidies and added that they have enough for February so they will try to access appropriations for March and maybe April, so they may have those two months in case they have to soften any impact.
However, he anticipated that the procedure may overlap with the workload of other states that did not have those funds and that now have to pay to those who rent through these subsidies.
Gil Enseñat also said that he will monitor the fifteen additional days requested by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to achieve the reauthorization of the action plan for CDBG-DR funds, which total about $ 8.2 billion.
Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores highlighted that the reopening will mean a relief not only for federal employees of the Department of Agriculture, but also for farmers and other sectors that receive some kind of service from that agency.
He indicated that there will still be some delays in paying farmers through disaster relief assistance programs. However, he anticipated that he does not think work will speed up in only 15 days, but that once everything goes back to normal, assistance will flow.
Although he expects those days will help with the organization, in terms of following cases and federal funds, it will take longer.
Woody Camp, president of the San Juan Chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), lamented that the national airspace system and its employees were used as negotiation pieces in a political dispute. He thinks that the U.S. government intentionally damaged its employees to a breaking point as seen at La Guardia airport. He noted that “interfering with the aviation security system is unprecedented and unacceptable.”
Jorge ‘Jay’ Rivera vice-president of the southeast region of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said that funding the federal government for three weeks brings economical relief, but the political climate in the United States brings division among parties in favor or against the wall. “We do not know what to expect,” he said.
Meanwhile, Javier Centeno, president of the local union of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said that Trump’s actions lead federal employees to resort for charity and questioned the President’s capacity to keep “the house in order”.
Ricardo Cortés Chico collaborated with this story.