Just as the nation was on the very verge of being taken hostage via a government shutdown engineered by the MAGA House Republicans, a massive bi-partisan coalition voted to pass a continuing resolution that kept the government open for 45 days.
And with that key vote, 126 Republicans joining 209 Democrats, versus 90 Republicans and one Democrat voting no, you can make a case that the nation’s MAGA fever that’s been raging since the start of the Trump presidency has now finally broken.
Earlier this week, Trump took to social media to instruct Republican House members to hold out “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice’, and End Election Interference.”
While Trump has been indicted four times, it may be that his growing irrelevance is a product of time marching on past his grievance which defines him. The prospect of the employment of millions of federal workers being upended and the public’s access to important government services being disrupted was just a lot more consequential than the latest Trump rant.
The U.S. Senate was set to take up the House’s continuing resolution this evening and act in time enough for President Biden to sign the measure, ahead of the midnight deadline.
“This spending bill was a complete and total victory for the American people. And a total defeat for the extreme MAGA Republicans,” Democratic Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) told reporters after the vote.
“Well, it was a strange few hours but Democrats have successfully prevented a shutdown AND stopped draconian cuts to vital programs,” tweeted Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, when her united caucus, though in the minority, had helped to carry the day.
Here in New Jersey, the one House member to vote ‘no’ was Rep. Van Drew (R-2nd). Van Drew was first elected as a Democrat in 2018. In 2020, he switched to the Republicans in an act of singular fidelity to Donald Trump. On January 6, 2020, after the rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Van Drew was one of the 147 Republicans who voted to derail democracy by voting not to certify Joe Biden’s victory.
Van Drew’s fellow New Jersey Republicans Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th) and Rep. Tom Kean (R-7th) split with the Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-TN) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Trump wing of the Republican Party.
While the House MAGA posse were big losers, New Jersey’s Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s (D-5th) bipartisan, 64 member Problem Solvers Caucus, which includes Kean, and Rep. Don Norcross (D-1st), emerged as the heroes who can now say that when it came to the brinkmanship of the shutdown, they put the people ahead of internal party intrigue.
“As I’ve said for weeks, with a divided government, a bipartisan solution is the only way to stop the ultra-right from holding the country hostage,” Gottheimer tweeted. “Today, I helped deliver a bipartisan vote to stop a shutdown and protect our military, first responders, seniors and children.”
“I do not support a shutdown of the federal government,” tweeted Kean, as that possibility still loomed on Saturday. “I have shared my concerns with my colleagues on the irresponsibility of shutting down the government. In the event of a government shutdown, I am not going to take a salary until that lapse of appropriations ends.”
It was a last-minute maneuver by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to put up “a clean continuing resolution” minus a $300 million installment of military aid for Ukraine that broke the logjam on his far-right wing. McCarthy, who had to go through 15 rounds of balloting to get the Speaker’s gavel, appeared stymied for weeks by the Gaetz-Trump Freedom Caucus.
Back in May, McCarthy signed off on to a White House and Congressional budget framework sparing the U.S. from defaulting on its debt. Most recently, members of the Freedom Caucus attempted to squeeze McCarthy for budget cuts that targeted “Biden’s bloated COVID spending, the enactment of additional abortion limits and the convening of a House inquiry into the impeachment of President Biden.
“I stayed (in D.C.) this weekend talking to members, the speaker and others to try to get through the impasse with a congressional resolution or appropriations bill,” Van Drew told the Atlantic City Press, before the bi-partisan breakthrough. “I would not like to see us shut down, yet we have to hold onto our principles.”
Last week, Van Drew tweeted that “Hunter Biden received $250K in wire transfers from China. The beneficiary address was Joe Biden’s Delaware home. The facts don’t lie. The American people deserve the truth.”
Back during the Trump administration in the longest shutdown in U.S. history, federal civil servants were locked out or forced to work for free from Dec. 22, 2018, until Jan. 25,2019. The shutdown was an extreme hardship for federal workers like correction officers and employees of the Transportation Security Administration who had to report to work, pay for their commute and not be paid.
Many thousands of federal workers had to rely on credit cards, family loans, and food banks to get through the protracted shutdown. Out of the 800,000 federal workers effected last time, 24,000 lived in the tri-state region.
“It is a matter of total disrespect of federal employees to have to deal with this issue over and over again with Congress saying we are locking you out,” Dr. Everett Kelley, president of AFGE, the nation’s largest federal union told InsiderNJ, before the passage of the continuing resolution. Kelley was concerned that the country would see a repeat from the Trump shutdown when his members had to seek out food banks.
“Sixty percent of America’s working people are living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s no different from the people that I represent-they live from paycheck to paycheck as well” Kelley said. “Take TSA workers, many of them have to pay for the commute to the job, they have childcare and it’s almost impossible to live. Up until this year, when we are able to secure a bump in pay for them—but up until this year, these guys were making only an average of $34,000 a year.”
Kelley told Work-Bites the erratic nature of the government shutdown, even the anxiety around the possibility of one, undermines one of the historic selling points for federal employment, reliability.
“This definitely a problem,” Kelley said. “We don’t have adequate staffing now in various occupations in the federal government. Instead of locking federal workers out, they should be figuring out how can we better staff these agencies and how do we recruit the best and the brightest.”
In an interview last year, Kelly confirmed the union had lost at least 600 members during COVID, many through their occupational exposure to the often-deadly virus. Union officials have confirmed they have anecdotal reports of so-called long COVID symptoms among their members of varying severity that have persisted months after the initial infection.
The AFGE president said he has tried to call the family of each union member who died in the pandemic. “It’s something I don’t wish of anyone because we know that person is not coming back and that person gave their life, right — for their job —knowing the hazard and in many cases, they were not protected at all,” he said. “It was very difficult [to get information].” We had to fight. We had to expose. We had to do all kinds of things just to get information — and to be honest with you, we really don’t know the real amount. There’s so much we don’t know. It really varies by agency.”
Early on, the union’s TSA officers were some of the first to be infected and killed by COVID. AFGE members and their families serving in congregant facilities like the ones run by the Veteran’s Administration and the Bureau of Prisons were particularly hard hit, as well as those with frontline job titles like USDA inspector in the nation’s meat processing plants were also put at significant risk. Throughout the pandemic, particularly during the Trump administration, federal agencies refused to provide the union with any information about the status of the pandemic within their operations as the death toll mounted.
Back in 2020, AFGE, along with Kalijarvi, Chuli, Newman & Fitch, filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for premium hazard pay on behalf of tens of thousands of federal workers in frontline agencies like the USDA, the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Defense, TSA, and several others that saw COVID deaths and infections. That lawsuit is still pending.