Trump on Unpaid Shutdown Workers: 'We Have a Bigger Subject That We're Doing' with Border

Emma James, right, and co-worker Vincent Cuenca demonstrate outside the Federal Center on Jan. 4, 2019 in St. Louis. James is a processor in the multifamily housing division. Cuenta processes payments to FEMA contractors. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

WASHINGTON — President Trump said today that landlords should be “nice and easy” on federal employees left without paychecks — a situation that he said could drag on for months or even beyond a year.

Since the government shut down over a border-wall funding stalemate just before Christmas, more than 420,000 federal employees are deemed essential because of the nature of their work — such as law enforcement or federal prison guards — and are working without pay. Because the Coast Guard is currently within the Department of Homeland Security, it’s the only military service currently affected by the shutdown; USAA, which usually helps military families through shutdowns, is now accused of not extending the same lifelines to Coast Guard members.

Another estimated 380,000 federal employees are furloughed without pay, and without an indication of when they may be able to come back on the job. Contractors are affected as well.

CNN first reported today that hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers called out of work this week from at least four major airports because “TSA officers are telling the union they will find another way to make money.” TSA employees make on average just over $40,000 per year.

After a meeting with congressional officials at the White House, where no agreement was reached to end the shutdown, Trump was asked by a reporter, “You are a landlord. For people that are worried about paying their rent checks, government employees right now, people that are worried about bill collectors, would you ask those companies, the landlords to kind of go easy on the federal workers?”

“I think they will,” Trump replied before being nudged back to the original question.

“You know, hey, I’ve been a landlord for a long time. I’ve been in the real estate business for a long time,” he said. “When you see there are problems out there, difficulties out there, you know, the people are all good for the money. They work with people. They work with people.”

Prodded on whether he would urge landlords to back off, Trump replied, “Yeah, sure. I would encourage them to be nice and easy. We have a bigger subject that we’re doing. It’s called the security of our nation. Including terrorism, please. OK.”

Asked what the safety net is for federal workers, Trump responded that “the safety net it is going to be having a strong border because we’re going to be safe.”

“I’m not talking about economically, but ultimately economically. I really believe that these people, many of the people that we’re talking about, many of the people you’re discussing, I really believe that they agree with what we’re doing,” Trump said.

The president was asked, given the potential timeframe he acknowledged, how he expects federal workers to subsist within the months-long timeframe without paychecks.

“Let me just tell you this. It’s very important that we have great border security. I think it’s going to be over with sooner than people think. But I will do whatever we have to do. If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we’re going to do that. And many of those people, maybe even most of those people that really have not been and will not be getting that money in at this moment, those people in many cases are the biggest fan of what we’re doing,” Trump said, not elaborating on specifics.

The Office of Personnel Management offered federal employees affected by the shutdown sample letters to give to their creditors. “Speak with your landlord, mortgage company, or creditor first before you write a letter. Just sending a letter may not be very effective as it will take a fair amount of time to get to the individual who needs to see it, if at all,” says a directive. “Speaking with your creditors will enable you to work out the details of any payment plan that you can later confirm with your letter.”

The American Federation of Government Employees announced on New Year’s Eve that two Bureau of Prisons employees sued the Trump administration on behalf of all employees deemed essential, arguing that the “shutdown and conditions under which the federal government is requiring these employees and others to work puts lives at risk and endangers our communities.”