WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Wednesday called the federal government shutdown a “hostage” situation and said reopening the government is the Democrats’ “first responsibility.”
“The American (people) ought to be extraordinarily disappointed and angry,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “And there are two people who are shutting down this government, and that is (President) Donald Trump and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell.”
Hoyer’s comments came on the eve of planned votes in the House and Senate on competing bills aimed at ending a partial government shutdown that has entered its second month, idling 800,000 federal workers and causing ripple effects throughout the economy.
In comments to White House pool reporters, Trump tried to blame the impasse on the Democrats.
“It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats,” he said. “They’ve become radicalized.”
Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, told CNN that if the shutdown lasted through March, the impact would flatline economic growth.
“If it extended for the whole quarter, and given the fact that the first quarter tends to be low because of residual seasonality, then you could end up with a number very close to zero,” he said.
A Washington Post/ABC Poll released Jan. 13 found that 53 percent of Americans blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown.
Hoyer said that the Democrats have offered, “every possible way to reopen the government,” but McConnell “has refused to bring any of them up” until Trump made a new offer and the Senate leader set a vote for Thursday.
Hoyer said that trying to negotiate within the environment of the government shutdown has been “like trying to negotiate the context of ransom being demanded for hostages that have been taken. That’s not an environment that leads to productive negotiation.”
When asked what will happen if the two newest bills to end the shutdown fail, Hoyer responded that Democrats would be prepared to negotiate. However, he said, they would not allow Trump to blackmail them in order to get what he wants, stating “That’s wrong.”
The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Hoyer emphasized that the Democratic Party does want to increase border security.
But the Democrats’ priority is to reopen the government in order to aid the 800,000 federal workers who are not being paid, he said.
“We are for border security; We are for advanced technology. We are for beefing up the border and ports of entry,” Hoyer said. “But we need to open up the government. That is our first responsibility.”
A Jan. 14 Quinnipiac Poll found that 63 percent of Americans support Democrats’ proposal to reopen parts of the government that do not involve border security while also furthering negotiating funding for the wall.
Hoyer argued that just building a wall isn’t the solution, seeing as nearly 400 people entered the country through underground tunnels just this week.
“The wall would not stop them from getting here,” he said.