Long lines, closed shops as shutdown hits gridlocked Capitol Hill

The first government shutdown since 1996 meant long security lines, closed coffee shops and limited food options for staffers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

And those were the employees lucky enough to be deemed “essential” and go to work.

Thousands of unessential employees stayed home, with uncertainty over whether they’ll receive back pay for an unexpected vacation at home.

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For lawmakers, the shutdown meant closed private dining rooms and fewer support staff. Workers who run the elevators during votes, for example, were among those furloughed starting Tuesday.

Long security lines stretched outside the House and Senate office buildings Tuesday morning, as each building was only allowed to have one door open because of reduced staffing.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Capitol Police noted that there were enough personnel on hand to ensure the safety of the complex. Entrances were closed, the spokesperson said, because less traffic was expected due to furloughed staff and canceled tours.

Lawmaker offices determined which workers were essential and employed, and which were unessential and at home.

Some offices — such as Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-Del.) — sent out notices to constituents to let them know about an interruption in services.

Carper noted that his state offices were closed. And with the majority of his staff furloughed, his office was unable to answer constituent phone calls or update his official website or social media platforms.

The Capitol building itself was quieter than normal.

The Capitol Visitor Center, which is usually packed wall-to-wall with tourists, was virtually empty, which just a few police officers on duty and some staffers milling around.

The National Statuary Hall and the rotunda of the Capitol, which sits under the dome, didn’t have the usual swarm of tourists snapping pictures. Instead, a few staffers scurried through on their way back and forth across the Capitol.

Senate pages — the unpaid high school students who attend classes and run errands — were still working in the Senate complex.

The Senate subways running between the Capitol and the Senate office buildings were still moving, albeit with fewer passengers. On the House side, only one subway was running between the Capitol and the House office buildings.

Staffers had to do without The Creamery, a popular coffee shop in the Longworth House Office building that was closed for the shutdown. On the Senate side, the Senate Coffee Shop was shuttered.

Java was available at the Longworth Cafeteria and at Cups, a popular coffee shop on the Senate side run by private contractors.

But the Dirksen Cafe, a popular eatery in the Senate, was closed along with several dining options on the House side that closed early Tuesday afternoon.

In the Senate Carry-Out, a small eatery in the Capitol basement, most of the customers were members of the U.S. Capitol Police on their breaks.

A few protesters were seen outside the Capitol building. One held a sign “Do your job so I can do mine” while another sign read “Fed up Fed.”

Six House hearings scheduled to take place on Tuesday were canceled or rescheduled but three Senate hearings went on as planned.

However, a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on the Navy Yard shootings was postponed.

More hearing casualties appear to be coming, as lawmakers settle in for what could be a weeks-long shutdown. A Senate Agriculture Committee hearing scheduled for Thursday has already been postponed.

Receptions planned on Capitol Hill, including one hosted by the Italian ambassador to showcase Italy’s wines, were canceled.

While the Capitol Dome’s light stayed on after the shutdown began, the Capitol’s official Twitter account was inactivated.

“Due to a lapse in government funding, this account will not be active until further notice,” it said.

The big questions for furloughed staffers are how long will the government be shutdown, and will they receive back pay for the missed work.

Federal workers received back pay after the shutdowns in the 1990s, but it is unclear if that pattern will be repeated given today’s political environment, where many GOP lawmakers are unsympathetic to federal workers.

While lawmakers will be paid no matter what happens with the shutdown, furloughed staff planning mortgage and rent payments could be in a pitch.

Dozens of House members late Monday proposed legislation that would ensure full, retroactive compensation for furloughed employees.

The Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act would make sure all non-essential federal workers affected by the shutdown receive their pay later. It requires the approval of both chambers, however, which could be a tough climb.

The uncertainty might have been put best by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) as he left the House chamber shortly after 1 a.m.

“Good night, good morning, whatever.”

Pete Kasperowicz and Talia Mindich contributed to this story.