GOP senator wants ‘essential employees’ to get paid during shutdown

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Trump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday he’s working with colleagues to help ensure “essential employees” get a paycheck during the partial government shutdown that’s now in its 20th day.

"I'm working on what I would consider just a barebones funding mechanism that will pay the essential employees, whether it's Coast Guard, [Transportation Security Administration], [Customs and Border Protection], people involved in national security, homeland security,” Johnson told Hill.TV in an interview. “Making sure that as long as parts of the government are shutdown, the essential parts can remain open and are funded.”

Johnson said that he and “some other colleagues” are crafting a measure to “get past this and to keep pressure on Democrats to start negotiating in good faith, which they are not doing right now.”

He added that while he “fully supports” President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s fight for border wall funding, he worries about “some real issues, some real problems that we should address” regarding pay for federal employees who are required to work during the shutdown without getting paid.

More than 400,000 government employees at affected agencies have been working without pay since the shutdown began Dec. 22. About 380,000 workers have been furloughed during that time.

“Again, we don’t have to provide the full $250 billion — a fraction of that, I think, can really address the problem, make sure that these individuals that are keeping our nation safe are fully compensated,” Johnson said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally Third Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to McConnell MORE (R-Ky.) has said he will not bring up government funding legislation for a vote unless it has Trump’s support.

The president on Thursday again broached the possibility of declaring a national emergency to build the wall if a deal with Democrats remains elusive.

“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” Trump said on his way to the border town of McAllen, Texas. “I haven't done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably I will do that. I would almost say definitely.”

Johnson said he hopes it doesn’t come to that, though he noted that he thinks the National Emergencies Act of 1976 gives the president the authority to order construction of a border wall.

“It specifically talks about immigration emergency,” Johnson said. “So I think he probably does have that right that Congress has given to him in 1976.”

— Molly K. Hooper