01.23.19

Senate Floor Address Of Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy On Day 33 Of The Trump Shutdown

For a month now, much of the federal government has been closed for business while the President of the United States rants and raves about his personal obsession, the centerpiece of his extreme, anti-immigration agenda – a wall on our Southern border.  

For a month now, hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants have gone without a paycheck, even while many of them remained on the job.  Many can no longer pay their bills.  They are worried about how they will put food on the table.  Many are looking for temporary work.  Many are standing in line at food pantries.  They are trying to figure out how to pay for childcare, and health care, and how to keep up with their student loans, or pay their mortgage. 

Our federal courts are running out of money.  TSA agents are calling in sick in droves after weeks on the job without pay.  Thousands of people trying to buy new homes or refinance with a Federal Housing Administration-mortgage have been put on standby.  Small businesses and farmers cannot get federally-backed loans.  We’ve scaled back on food inspections. We are not enforcing our clean air and clean water rules.  Our National Parks are being vandalized and permanently damaged as they remain open to the public but largely unstaffed.  And, according the FBI Agents Association, criminal investigations are being stymied.  Grand jury subpoenas are going undelivered, confidential sources are being lost, and it is quickly becoming a national security threat.

This is America? 

Either the President doesn’t understand the harm his shutdown is causing, or he doesn’t care.  But the country is suffering.  Our economy is suffering.  The American people are suffering. 

Over the weekend, the President addressed the country from the White House and laid out his price to stop the shutdown.  Calling it a compromise, he made vague promises of protections for DACA recipients and those who receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  We could end this shutdown, he said, and all U.S. taxpayers had to do was fund his wall – a wasteful monument to himself that he promised Mexico would pay for. 

It was a transparent attempt to look reasonable on national television while simultaneously holding the federal government, and millions of Americans, hostage to a shutdown that harms our economy and our communities every day.  But offering temporary protections for vulnerable immigrants, protections that he unilaterally chose to strip in the first place, in exchange for a permanent, ineffective wall is hardly reasonable.  And it is hardly reasonable to use the well-being of our federal workforce, or the services upon which many in America rely, as hostage to fund a pet project.  The President cannot bargain with something he broke.

On Monday night, Senate Republicans unveiled the President’s plan in more detail, and it became clear that what seemed like a disingenuous ploy to seem reasonable and stop his slide in the polls was really a much more cynical attempt to implement his hard-line, anti-immigration agenda using the harm of the Trump Shutdown as leverage.

The McConnell bill before us reads like an A-through-Z immigration wish list for President Trump.  First, the bill provides $5.7 billion for a wasteful monument to the President’s ego – a wall that most experts agree would do little to address the real problems on our Southern border.  This bill also dramatically increases the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds to 52,000 and ICE enforcement agents by 2,000.  But the Trump administration has repeatedly proven it does not know how to prioritize its immigration enforcement resources. In the first 14 months of the Trump administration, ICE’s arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions spiked by 203 percent over the final 14 months of the Obama administration.

President Trump is not deploying resources to round up “bad hombres” or threats to our national security.  He is deploying his enforcement resources to strike fear into the hearts of all undocumented immigrants.  This administration’s enforcement policies are driven by the cruel desire to scare undocumented immigrants into believing that they – or their disabled children, or their elderly parents – could be next. Until the Trump administration changes its dragnet approach to immigration enforcement, Congress must not fund an expansion of his detention and deportation force.  

The bill also contains provisions that serve as fig leaves to fix problems the Trump administration brought about in the first place.  It would provide three years of temporary protection to 700,000 individuals currently enrolled in DACA – protection that is only required because of the President’s own decision to terminate the program.  It would not provide a path to citizenship for these Dreamers or any protections to the nearly one million more individuals who are eligible for DACA protections.  Similarly, the bill would provide three years of temporary protection to TPS recipients from a few countries whose TPS designation the Trump administration terminated in the first place.

Providing permanent funding for a wall in exchange for provisions that temporarily clean up messes of the Trump administration’s own making is not a compromise; it’s taking hostages on top of hostages.  And it’s a non-starter.  Stripping away protections from Dreamers and TPS recipients and then, treating them like pawns by suddenly offering them temporary reprieve, is not compassionate; it’s callous.

Finally, the bill seeks to dismantle our humanitarian asylum system as we know it.  It contains provisions that would effectively bar any asylum applications from Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran minors that are not made from a designated processing center somewhere in Central America.  In other words, the many thousands of vulnerable children fleeing horrors in the Northern Triangle and arriving at our border would be categorically barred from applying for asylum – and be subject to immediate removal proceedings.

But the entire point of asylum is to provide an opportunity for those who have fled persecution and violence to seek refuge in our country.  Our asylum system would become distorted beyond recognition if we instead punish these desperate children for the very act of fleeing for their lives.

It is remarkable that the author of the “Art of the Deal” would think that Democrats would accept what amounts to a deal breaker.  We will not.   

I welcome a debate on the need for immigration reform.  In 2013, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I ushered a bipartisan bill to reform our immigration system and secure the border through the Committee.  We held multiple hearings and considered hundreds of amendments.  It then received 68 votes here on the Senate floor.  It can be done.  But not while the President holds hostage all Americans, including hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families.

I remind the Senate that on December 19, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to fund the government by voice vote.  In other words, the Senate was for keeping the government open, until President Trump changed the minds of our Republican leaders. 

The President and Senate Republicans should reopen the government now, without any further foot dragging.  Congress and the Senate are a co-equal and independent branch of government.

We have bipartisan bills before Congress right now to do that, but Senator McConnell refuses to bring them up while the country pays the price.  This has to end.  Call up the bipartisan bills and let us vote.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693