Workers still cautious as post-shutdown government reopens
By AMY FORLITI
Sunday, January 27
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Park rangers were once again greeting visitors at some national parks across the United States and flight operations at major airports were returning to normal, one day after a partial government shutdown came to an end.
While there were signs on Saturday that some government machinery was grinding back to life after a record 35 days without funding, many federal workers and their families approached the end of the shutdown cautiously, saying they were relieved they would receive paychecks again, but would continue to restrict their spending amid fears that another shutdown could happen in weeks.
“You can only be so happy because you just have to know that it could happen again,” said Rachel Malcom, whose husband serves in the Coast Guard in Rhode Island. “We’re going to be playing catch up, so I don’t want to overspend.”
President Donald Trump signed a short-term deal Friday to end the partial government shutdown, which caused 800,000 federal employees to miss two paychecks. The administration asked department heads to reopen offices in a “prompt and orderly manner.”
Many government agencies still had notices on their websites Saturday saying they were not fully operating due to the lack of appropriations. Calls to several agencies also went unanswered, with voicemails saying the offices were closed due to the shutdown. But many parks — from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Minnesota — were glad to open their doors to weekend visitors.
John Anfinson, superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, said it felt great to tell his employees to open the Mississippi River Visitor’s Center. He texted his manager and said “Roll up the gate!”
“They were just waiting for the green light,” he said. Park ranger Sharon Stiteler posted a video to Twitter that showed the center’s gates opening with the word: “Weeeee!”
The visitor’s center, located in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota, saw 180 visitors in its first hour of operation, Anfinson said, and when he stopped by, the employees had “big smiles on their faces.”
The National Park Service said it was working on reopening all of its parks as quickly as possible, but some parks may not open immediately depending on their staff size and complexity. The Virgin Islands National Park, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were among the parks that reopened Saturday.
And Yellowstone National Park officials said visitor centers would reopen there by Sunday afternoon, with the majority of staff returning Monday to begin working on a backlog of permit requests, including from those seeking to do research in the park.
Mike Litterst, chief spokesman for the National Park Service, said the nation’s more than 400 parks are reopening on a rolling schedule. Some of the parks that were partially open and accessible during the shutdown are expected to get back to full operations more quickly.
“We’re certainly grateful that all of our dedicated rangers and park service staff are back at work,” Litterst said.
In the New York area, airport operations were returning to normal, just a day after LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs because of the shutdown — which caused a ripple effect throughout the system. On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that flights at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport were landing and taking off Saturday morning with 15-minute delays. There were no other major delays nationwide, according to the FAA’s website, which tracks flight delays.
Some parts of the government were taking a little more time to open up.
The Smithsonian museums and National Zoo in Washington planned to reopen to the public on Tuesday. Spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said until then, employees will check all audio-visual and interactive exhibits to make sure everything is working properly and curators will make a final check of the exhibits. Cafeterias will also be restocked and food shipments will resume, but full food service might not be immediately available.
Nigel Fields, superintendent of Virgin Islands National Park, said donations kept the park mostly open during its busy tourist season. But, he said, there is some anxiety about another closure. The park covers about 60 percent of the island of St. John, which was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The shutdown affected the park service’s ability to continue rebuilding, strengthening the coral reef and restoring native vegetation after the storms.
For families of workers, the government’s reopening came with a mix of relief and fear. While those who were furloughed or required to work without pay will receive back pay, it’s unclear when that will happen.
Crystal Simmons, whose husband serves in the Coast Guard in Connecticut, said it will likely take some time to process back pay, and then employees could be in the same situation again if another shutdown happens.
“I don’t think I can really relax and go back to the way things were,” she said.
Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, and Verena Dobnik in New York contributed to this report.
End of shutdown still leaves contract workers hanging
By JAY REEVES
Monday, January 28
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Federal employees are turning on office lights and computers and reopening national parks and museums for the first time in weeks, but others employed by government contractors face still more uncertainty over when they’ll resume work or whether they’ll ever be paid for time lost to the stalemate over President Donald Trump’s border wall.
For the hundreds of thousands of people who work for private companies that support government, the future will be decided in part by how quickly federal agencies get running after the record 35-day shutdown, the fine print of contracts and the kindness of strangers.
Michelle Oler of St. Louis resorted to online fundraising to pay bills while sidelined from her contracting job processing rural development claims for the Agriculture Department, and she’s still unsure when she’ll resume work or receive money to compensate for missed paychecks.
“The estimate of what I’ve lost financially due to the shutdown is upwards of $3,500. The anxiety, sleeplessness and depression make it feel like much more,” Oler said Sunday in an interview by email. Her GoFundMe page has brought in only $50 so far.
Kevin Doyle, a father of three, estimated he’s out around $5,000 from his contracting job as an encryption specialist at Laughlin Air Force Base on the Texas-Mexico border. He said he didn’t sleep and lost weight during the shutdown as both the stress and the bills piled up.
Doyle said he will return to work on Monday, but he starts a new job Friday with another company that he hopes will be more stable if talks fail over Trump’s demand for money for a wall and another shutdown begins next month.
“We were scraping pennies and nickels together one day to get the baby a Happy Meal,” said Doyle, 40. “It’s just that bad.”
The partial government shutdown ended when Trump backed off his demand that Congress commit $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall before federal agencies could resume work. All or parts of multiple federal agencies were affected, with some employees furloughed and others forced to work without pay.
The 800,000 federal workers who were affected will receive back pay, but contractors don’t have the same guarantee.
Jack Lyons, who was furloughed from his contract job providing technical support at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in north Alabama, didn’t miss a paycheck during the shutdown. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he said.
But Lyons still wonders what will happen when he returns to work Monday in a building near towering stands built to test rockets at the NASA center.
“I’ll walk in, wipe the dust off the desk and see how management decides to catch up on what we missed,” he said Sunday. “Passwords expire and that sort of stuff, so it will just be a matter of making sure you can get in at first.”
NASA told workers in a message on its website to be patient with laptops, desktop computers and smartphones that haven’t been maintained or updated since last month when the shutdown began.
Doyle said it could take his family a long time to dig out from under the shutdown’s effect. The mortgage and power bills are both two months behind, Doyle said, and he doesn’t expect another paycheck before Feb. 28.
Doyle’s wife can’t work because of a back injury, he said, and the family wasn’t eligible for food assistance because of past wages. A food bank was out of items by the time they got there, he said.
“A worker there gave us a $50 Walmart gift card out of the kindness of her heart,” he said.
In Missouri, Oler is thankful she moved in with two roommates in early December before the shutdown began. The change dropped her expenses drastically from the $800 a month she was paying for rent, utilities, internet, phone, car insurance and food for her and her cat.
Even with smaller bills, though, Oler said she is still looking for a new job because she can’t take the stress of working with the government anymore.
“While I love being a contractor, I hate the uncertainty that’s come with it. This happened to us last year on a smaller scale, but this year’s shutdown has me concerned for my future and welfare,” she said.
Separation of powers: An invitation to struggle
January 28, 2019
Author: Bruce Peabody, Professor of American Politics, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Disclosure statement: Bruce Peabody does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
There’s been a lot of trouble in the nation’s capital lately.
The United States just endured a monthlong government shutdown affecting services ranging from airline travel to tax collection.
Congress and the president have battled over where and even whether to hold the State of the Union.
Plus, late last year, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing new immigration policies that would limit migrants to seeking asylum at established border checkpoints. When President Trump dismissed this ruling as the product of a politically motivated “Obama judge,” Chief Justice John Roberts pushed back, invoking the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday in stating that an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
And if we push beyond these headline stories, we can see that government’s bread and butter operations, like appointing judges or passing meaningful legislation, have slowed and become subjects of pitched political fights.
Of course, clashes between the branches of government are nothing new. Indeed, they are actually baked into our constitutional design.
The founders built a system of government with three separate branches – we call it the “separation of powers” – that are each supposed to monitor and check the actions of the others in order to prevent abuses of power.
But given the breakdowns in functioning within all three branches, it might appear that the separation of powers system is broken or unbalanced. Or perhaps the human element essential for the separation of powers to function properly has stopped working?
No clear concept
According to America’s first president, George Washington, the experiences of the early United States, not to mention “ancient and modern” nations across the globe, demonstrated the “necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power” to protect the public interest.
While the U.S. Constitution gives specific and implied powers to the national legislative, executive and judicial branches, there’s no separation of powers clause or specific reference, as there are in other national constitutions like those found in Croatia, the Dominican Republic and Turkey.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution had varying ideas about what our separated powers are designed for. I’ve conducted research on the separation of powers showing that there’s also no clear consensus among contemporary judges or scholars, either.
Still, there are a few broadly accepted features of our separated powers system.
Most people see separation of powers as the federal government’s division into three branches, legislative, executive and judicial, each with a special job.
Scholars and other constitutional experts note that this division of powers is mixed and somewhat messy.
For example, Congress has the lion’s share of legislative power. But the president can both veto bills and recommend to Congress “such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” according to the Constitution.
This untidy power-sharing is supposed to avoid what founding father James Madison called “the very definition of tyranny” – all power in one set of hands. That means we give ambitious politicians tools that bring them into conflict as a way of limiting the power of any one person or branch.
The Constitution and its separation of powers is not a clean division of labor, but what scholar Edward S. Corwin dubbed an “invitation to struggle,” where elected officials protect their branches – and themselves – by meddling, being alert and, where necessary, confrontational.
In other words, what’s supposed turn the Constitution into what poet James Russell Lowell called “a machine that would go of itself,” is a set of rules and organizations fueled by certain kinds of behavior among those in power to make that system work.
The separation of powers is more like a guidebook for running an effective poker tournament rather than a set of instructions for a specific piece of Ikea furniture.
An incomplete sketch
But this view of the separation of powers, focused on negative checks, a federal division of powers and leaders jealous and protective of their institutional powers, is only half of the story.
Our constitutional powers “were divided to make possible their effective use … to prevent deadlock, not to create it,” wrote Ann Stuart Anderson, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.
So the separation of powers is more than checks and balances designed to prevent mischief.
“Workable” government requires human qualities that go beyond the architecture of government. We need some level of cooperation, deference and mutual respect from the people within government.
This is what Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have called the norms of “mutual toleration” and “forbearance.”
As former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put it during his appearance at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on strengthening judicial independence in 2007, the “separation of powers and checks and balances are not automatic mechanisms. They depend upon a commitment to civility, open communication, and good faith on all sides.”
So, for example, the president is constitutionally permitted to exercise the veto. But presidents must use that power judiciously. It would presumably violate the spirit of the separation of powers if the chief executive vetoed legislation every time he didn’t get his way.
The public expects more
For those who watched the fight between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump over when he could deliver the State of the Union address, it might appear that the civility and mutual respect required to keep our separated powers working smoothly are no longer present.
And the incident, along with the shutdown, prompts the question: Is our constitutional separation of powers broken or working?
The glib, but probably accurate answer is: both.
Like his predecessors, President Trump continued to sign bills into law while the government was shut down. Because of the Antideficiency Act, “essential” government departments, like the U.S. military and courts, continued to operate even after their traditional funding sources expired.
And some states, like California and Colorado, responded to the federal stalemate by extending unemployment benefits to government employees working without pay.
But this patchwork of policies and short-term fixes may not be enough when it comes to the inevitable next shutdown, or for tackling even bigger issues facing the nation, including immigration, climate change or the ongoing threats of terrorism and cyberwarfare.
And the well-documented cratering of public trust in government – with only 18 percent of Americans in 2007 saying they regularly trust the “government in Washington” to do what is right, compared with 77 percent in 1964 – shows that “We the People” expect something more.
Roland Magyar: Unfortunately, our founding fathers did not anticipate a small % of elitists taking control of all 3 branches of government. I didn’t hear much from the Democrats (or anyone else for that matter) when banking, worker and environmental protections were dismantled. It’s time for those opposed to the current power structure to get organized like the Koch brothers and propose and pursue a coherent alternative to the capitalist elites. It needs to begin with an understanding of power and how to manage one’s personal desire for it.
In a Trump retreat, shutdown ends without wall money for now
By JILL COLVIN, LISA MASCARO and ZEKE MILLER
Sunday, January 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — The record 35-day federal shutdown has ended with President Donald Trump giving in to mounting pressure and signing legislation to reopen the government for three weeks, a retreat from his demand that Congress commit billions to a U.S.-Mexico border wall before federal agencies could resume work.
Trump, in a weakened negotiating position, will try again to persuade lawmakers to finance the wall, with a Feb. 15 deadline looming as he holds out the potential of another shutdown. He tweeted Saturday that “21 days goes very quickly” and that making a deal “will not be easy” because both Republicans and Democrats are “very dug in.”
Without explaining how it would happen, the president asserted, “We will build the Wall!” even though the measure he signed into law Friday after reaching agreement with congressional leaders contained no new money for the wall. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said repeatedly she will not go for it: “Have I not been clear? No, I have been very clear.”
The administration asked department heads to reopen offices in a “prompt and orderly manner” and said hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees , whose latest missed payday had brought new urgency to efforts to resolve the standoff, could return to work. The deal includes back pay, which the administration promises to get out as soon as possible.
The shutdown ended as Democratic leaders had insisted it must, with the government first reopening and then talks about border security. Also, a strong majority of Americans blamed Trump for the stalemate and rejected his arguments for a border wall, recent polls show.
“The president thought he could crack Democrats, and he didn’t, and I hope it’s a lesson for him,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York.
Trump, nonetheless, tweeted, “This was in no way a concession” and said he wanted to help those “badly hurt” by the shutdown. The president also said, without elaboration, that if there is no “fair deal” with Congress by Feb. 15, “it’s off to the races!”
Earlier, in a Rose Garden speech when he announced the short-term agreement, Trump raised the prospect of using “the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States” to get what he wants.
The president has said he could declare a national emergency and use money under such a declaration to pay for the border wall unilaterally. Such a move would almost certainly face legal challenges.
A bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers was being formed to consider border spending as part of the legislative process in the coming weeks.
Also to be determined is a new date for the president to deliver his State of the Union address, which was postponed from Jan. 29 during the shutdown.
As border talks resume, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hopes for “good-faith negotiations over the next three weeks to try to resolve our differences.”
Schumer said that while Democrats oppose the wall money, they agree on other ways to secure the border “and that bodes well for coming to an eventual agreement.”
Trump is risking backlash from conservatives who pushed him to keep fighting for the wall. Some lashed out Friday for yielded, for now, on his signature campaign promise.
Within the White House, there was broad recognition among Trump’s aides that the shutdown pressure was growing and the standoff could not stretch on indefinitely. The president’s approval numbers had fallen during the impasse. Several Republicans were calling on him, openly and in private, to reopen the government.
The breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey both experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs Friday because of the shutdown. And the world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — was experiencing long security wait times, a warning sign the week before it expects 150,000 out-of-town visitors for the Super Bowl.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Colleen Long, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Juliet Linderman contributed to this report.
(Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)