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

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Trump UN pick donated to GOP members on Senate Foreign Relations panel Scott Walker considering running for Wisconsin governor or Senate: report 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 TrumpPapadopoulos claims he was pressured to sign plea deal Tlaib asking colleagues to support impeachment investigation resolution Trump rips 'Mainstream Media': 'They truly are the Enemy of the People' 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 - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Senate gears up for Green New Deal vote 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