The Memo: Absent paychecks may put Trump in bind

The partial government shutdown is now almost certain to deprive federal employees of at least one paycheck, a development that will ratchet up the political stakes higher than ever.

Even some people who are usually supportive of President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE are worried about the potential consequences.

“He will have made his point to his supporters, and there will be trouble if he takes it any further than that,” said one GOP strategist with ties to the White House. “Real people are really hurting, and those stories can become overwhelming.”


Many federal employees would, under normal circumstances, be due to receive a paycheck this Friday, Jan. 11. But acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that those checks would not go out unless a resolution to the shutdown were to be found by midnight Tuesday.

Such a speedy resolution seems all but impossible. Talks over the weekend between Democratic staffers and top administration officials including Vice President Pence went nowhere.

The president has scheduled a prime-time television address for Tuesday night and he plans to visit the southern border on Thursday. Both events seem designed to bolster support from his base for a prolonged shutdown.

The crux of the dispute is the same as it has always been: Trump is demanding billions of dollars to build the border wall he promised during his 2016 campaign, and Democrats insist they won’t give it to him.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Pence pleaded with military officials to 'clear the Capitol' on Jan. 6: AP Democrats see political winner in tax fight MORE (D-Calif.) described the concept of a wall as “an immorality” last week.

The question now becomes whether the mushrooming effects of the shutdown — including the likely missed paychecks on Friday — will change the political calculus.


The Office of Personnel Management has already posted a sample letter on its website for federal employees who want to bargain with their landlords or mortgage providers to postpone full payments until the shutdown ends and they start receiving paychecks again.

Trump told reporters during a lengthy Rose Garden news conference on Friday that he would “encourage” landlords to be “nice and easy” with employees who were struggling to pay their rent.

On Sunday, the president asserted that he can “relate” to federal workers who face lost income because of the shutdown, adding that he was “sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustment. They always do.”

Trump has insisted that federal workers are willing to endure some pain during the partial shutdown — which affects about 800,000 government employees in all — because they agree with him on the imperative of fortifying the border.

He has provided no specific evidence for this claim, which is vigorously disputed by labor unions representing federal employees.

Government workers opposed to Trump’s position are making their voices heard. The National Federation of Federal Employees plans to hold a rally and march to the White House on Thursday, calling for an end to the shutdown.

The national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, J. David Cox Sr., released a statement Monday which said in part: "The women and men who keep our country running deserve to get their paycheck on payday. It's unconscionable that starting this week, those who have worked tirelessly at our airports and federal prisons — among many other worksites and offices — will come home empty-handed."

Democratic strategists say their party holds the upper hand, and that the political costs to Trump will keep growing as time goes on.

“Trump probably doesn’t understand this, but most of those federal workers are not in Washington. They are all over the country — they have friends, they have neighbors,” Democratic strategist Robert Shrum told The Hill. “The wall itself is very unpopular so basically he is doing this for the sake of an idea that the country doesn’t like.”

In two polls conducted in December, by Quinnipiac University and CNN/SRS, respectively, clear majorities of respondents opposed the building of a wall on the southern border — by 54-43 percent in the former, and 57-38 percent in the latter.

There have been some cracks in GOP solidarity over the shutdown. Three Republican senators — Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate MORE (Maine) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings GOP senator recovering from surgery for prostate cancer Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured MORE (N.C.) — have all expressed misgivings. Gardner and Collins have flatly called for the reopening of the government.

The administration has sought to demonstrate that it understands the concerns of people who are suffering the impact of the shutdown, which affects about one-quarter of the federal government.

Briefing reporters on Monday, Russell Vought, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said the administration was trying to make the shutdown “as painless as possible consistent with the law.”

Vought also confirmed that tax refunds would be sent out despite the shutdown, an issue about which there had previously been uncertainty.

Conservative commentators who support the wall insist that the political dangers for Trump are being overstated.

They warn that breaking his pledge to build the wall would carry graver political consequences. Many draw parallels with former President George H.W. Bush, who famously promised “read my lips: no new taxes” on the campaign trail, only to raise taxes while in office — and lose his bid for a second term.

Steve Deace, a conservative radio host based in Iowa, said Trump needed to keep his message simple. Trump, he said, should simply state that “one of the primary reasons I got elected was my promise to secure the border, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Deace said the consequences of Trump disappointing his base on an issue of national sovereignty would be far more severe than any political downside in terms of the plight of federal workers.

“Almost none of those people are voting for Republicans anyway,” Deace insisted.

The president is striving to get back on offense in the shutdown battle with his television address and his border visit.

But even the GOP strategist with White House ties suggested this might not be enough for Trump to triumph as the shutdown bites more sharply.

“He is trying to dominate the headlines now on a daily basis, going into what looks like being the longest shutdown in American history,” this source said. “But once those stories build up of people getting evicted from low-income housing or people aren’t able to pay their rent, that is going to put a lot of pressure on him to come to a deal.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.