Phones ‘ringing off the hook’ from worried federal workers

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was among those briefing the media Wednesday afternoon. Also pictured from left: Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.); Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.); Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.); Everett Kelley of the American Federation of Government Employees; D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton; and Randy Erwin of the National Federation of Federal Employees. (WTOP/Mitchell Miller)

WASHINGTON — Federal workers are flooding congressional offices with concerned calls about how they’ll pay their bills, and lawmakers who represent them in the D.C. area vowed Wednesday to do all they can to help end the partial government shutdown.

Calling the shutdown “stupid, uncalled for, unnecessary,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House will pass four spending bills this week aimed at opening up federal agencies that have remained closed during the shutdown.

“All of us in this regional delegation will continue to stand up and fight for our constituents who serve in the federal workforce,” Hoyer said at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol, where he appeared with several other Democratic lawmakers from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The lawmakers said they are hearing constantly from worried federal workers and contractors. Federal workers will miss their first paycheck on Friday, unless the shutdown ends.

“I represent about 80,000 federal employees and thousands of federal contractors and their family members. They are getting crushed by [President] Trump’s shutdown,” said Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 8th District. “The phone is ringing off the hook in our office here on the Hill and our office in Alexandria — calls and letters overwhelming, opposing the shutdown.”

Beyer and other lawmakers said it’s clear anxiety is ratcheting up as the shutdown continues. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat who was just elected to represent Virginia’s 10th District — which includes much of Loudoun County — said the start of her term has been busy.

“I’ve heard from hundreds of constituents who are facing financial trouble, who had to return Christmas presents, who are picking up second jobs, who feel like their government and the nation they pledged their careers to serve have betrayed them,” Wexton said.

The lawmakers renewed calls for Trump to reach an agreement with congressional leaders and immediately end the shutdown. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 11th District and an opponent of the border wall, was highly critical of the president’s address to the country Tuesday night.

Connolly said the wall is unnecessary and not “justified by racist, bigoted, nativist, xenophobic rhetoric we heard last night on television.” Connolly went on to call it “one of the most sordid moments in the history of the Oval Office.”

The news conference was held a few hours before the president met with Republican congressional leaders on Capitol Hill to shore up support for his position on border wall funding. Appearing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican lawmakers, the president told reporters the GOP is a “very, very unified party.”

“We’re all behind the president,” McConnell said. “We think this border security issue is extremely important to the country.”

But some Republican senators in recent days have indicated they would prefer for the government to be reopened, while negotiations continue on the border wall and border security.

Not long after visiting Capitol Hill, the president met with congressional leaders at the White House. Trump tweeted that meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer was “a total waste of time.”

Before Wednesday’s White House meeting, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said that Democrats believe they may be able to get close to 25 Republicans to vote with them on measures that would reopen the government. But the Senate is not expected to take up the House legislation.

Hoyer and other lawmakers reiterated that the shutdown is hurting average Americans, and not just those who work for the federal government.

“Because of this shutdown, [Securities and Exchange Commission] regulators can’t protect retirees and investors; FDA food inspectors can’t be keep our produce safe; our national parks remain without visitor services … security lines at airports are longer, causing delays of travelers,” Hoyer said.

The shutdown, he said, threatens to make working for the federal government less attractive, by not paying people on time.

“We are eroding the credibility of the federal government,” Hoyer said.

Others who spoke at the news conference on Wednesday included: John Sarbanes, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 3rd District; David Trone, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 6th District; and Jamie Raskin, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 8th District. Union representatives of federal workers also urged the president and congressional leaders to reopen the government.

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