Rep. Larsen says ending shutdown comes before other issues

The 10-term congressman addressed questions about the federal closure, the wall and Trump.

Rick Larsen

Rick Larsen

MARYSVILLE — Federal employees not getting paid, border security and President Donald Trump, himself, were at the center of a town hall discussion Sunday hosted by Rep. Rick Larsen.

About 40 people took part in the nearly two-hour question-and-answer session and talk at the Marysville Family YMCA. Larsen, a 10-term Democratic congressman, was home from D.C. during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. He spent the past week touring the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from Mountlake Terrace to Bellingham and the San Juan Islands to Arlington, to hear stories about the effect of federal government shutdown.

What’s happening to people, an estimated 800,000 of whom aren’t receiving paychecks, is something more concrete than the wall that Trump wants funded, Larsen said. Missed mortgages, reliance on food banks and other financial burdens are mounting stresses for federal employees.

“Building a wall is not the answer,” he said.

At the start of the meeting, he gave a couple of anecdotes, including one about a woman who was awaiting the approval of U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development housing loans before she could get her home.

A man who said he was retired from the Forest Service worried that federal employees missing paychecks would create an environment ripe for bribes or at least the appearance of bribery when they accepted financial assistance from friends or anyone who was not their employer.

Another man came prepared to share his own shutdown story. He said he was a federal employee who had just missed his second Friday paycheck since the shutdown began in December. Among the essential classifications, such as air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration employees, the man said he has had to work without pay and asked Larsen what he was doing to remedy that problem.

Larsen said his pressing priorities are to get federal employees back to work and to get them paid. After that, he is willing to work on addressing Trump’s border security concerns. That position conflicts with Trump’s negotiating effort to first fund the wall along the U.S. southern border and then reopen the government.

He was hopeful that Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were moving toward a compromise, but one that begins with reopening of the federal government.

Listing his reasons for not favoring a wall, Larsen cited what he called the president’s “broken campaign promises.” The length of the wall has dramatically shortened, Larsen said, compared to what Trump touted leading up to the 2016 election, as has the idea of a continuous concrete structure. Now, Trump is touting an idea supported by some Democrats, Republicans and the Border Patrol of “steel slats,” better described as steel poles.

But the crux of Larsen’s disagreement with Trump’s request was that Trump has not brought a specific proposal for Congress to scrutinize before voting on a budget, breaking with other presidents.

“I’m frustrated that this administration is acting like it doesn’t have to give details when they do,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like a good idea to approve money that I think would be wasted,” he later added.

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