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 Fred Jennings, 67, holds a placard stating 'NEED TO WORK' while gathering with area elected officials and furloughed federal workers at a rally in front of Independence Hall on Jan. 8, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Demanding Trump and McConnell #StopTheShutdown, Dozens of Unions to Rally for Struggling Federal Workers

Protest plans come as concerns mount about impacts of the ongoing government shutdown, including on food stamps and Medicare

Jessica Corbett

As the partial government shutdown entered its 19th day on Wednesday—well on its way to becoming the longest in U.S. history—dozens of unions are planning a rally in Washington, D.C., adding to mounting pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to stand up to President Donald Trump, who is refusing to back a budget bill without $5.7 billion in funding for his "ridiculous" border wall.

Announcing the rally at AFL-CIO's D.C. headquarters, which is scheduled to kick of at noon local time on Thursday, organizers said the union-led event was planned "to protest the continuing shutdown and resulting furloughs that are financially hurting 800,000 federal employees and families." Speakers will included furloughed federal employees, union leaders, and members of Congress.

As long as McConnell continues refusing to back government funding legislation that passed the Democratic House last week, unions and workers are urging senators to stonewall all other bills until they reopen the government.

"Ending the government shutdown and putting people back to work must be the highest and only priority of the U.S. Senate," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said earlier this week. "Every day this senseless and manufactured crisis drags on, real families with very real bills are harmed and millions are denied the vital services we deserve. Politicians need to do their job and allow us to do ours."

Adding to the pressure on lawmakers to move forward with spending legislation is concerns over how the ongoing shutdown will impact Medicare and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often called food stamps. Sonny Perdue, the Trump-appointed head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said Tuesday that the agency can only cover SNAP benefits through February—even though Trump has theatened to let the shutdown go on for "years" if he doesn't get his way.

Also on Tuesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), pointed out that if the McConnell continues to refuse to hold a vote on legislation to end the shutdown, "instead of focusing on seniors' healthcare, doctors and hospitals will be forced to contend with across-the-board cuts to their Medicare payments." Wyden called on McConnell to allow a vote to "prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts" to the program.

Trump, for his part, is threatening to declare a national emergency to justify the wall—a move that legal scholars warn would be illegal—and has repeatedly insisted, without evidence, and contrary to their public statements, that federal workers support the shutdown.

Following his "bigoted, childish con job" of a speech during primetime on Tuesday, Trump told reporters at the Oval Office on Wednesday, "a lot of them agree with what I'm doing." Meanwhile, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)—the nation's largest union of federal workers and one of the rally organizers—sued his administration last week for forcing them to work without pay.

"Every day I'm getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck," said Hydrick Thomas, AFGE TSA council president. "Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown."

Instead of focusing on the shutdown, floor speeches in the Senate on Wednesday morning were about a bill—initially voted down Tuesday night—that would authorize millions of dollars in military aid to Israel and embolden states and localities to punish pro-Palestinian boycotts, which critics have denounced as blatantly unconstitutional.

Although McConnell controls what bills make it to the Senate floor, a growing number of GOP senators are echoing the demands their Democratic counterparts have made for weeks now—that the chamber needs to reopen the government, with or without the president's support. According to CNN's latest tally, nine Republican senators have taken some sort of stand against the current situation:

GOP senators calling for an end to the shutdown

  • Susan Collins (Maine)
  • Cory Gardner (Colo.)
  • Lisa Murkowski (Ala.)

GOP senators voicing concern

  • Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
  • John Boozman (La.)
  • Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.)
  • Pat Roberts (Kan.)
  • Mike Rounds (S.D.)
  • Marco Rubio (Fla.)

While this isn't a "tipping point" yet, CNN explained, as Trump "still has a critical mass of Congressional Republicans behind him—and the congressional leadership is firmly behind the White House on this," it is certainly contributing to the pressure on McConnell to reconsider his position.

Given that this number of votes from Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate would be enough, with a united Democratic caucus, to pass spending legislation, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent concluded on Twitter, "that should encourage Ds to stick [with] this strategy" of blocking all bills until the shutdown ends.

Breaking down what is on the horizon if Congress and the Trump White House refuse to reopen the government by Friday, the New York Times detailed what the rest of January could look like for federal workers:

what will happen if shutdown continues by NYT

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