February 4, 2019


In December, President Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government, but the damage done to our country by his record-long 35-day government shutdown is nothing to be proud of. I was proud to work with a bipartisan group of Senators on an agreement to reopen the government, and, on January 24th, I joined a group of Senators from both parties on the Senate floor to call for a solution. Together, we introduced an amendment to reopen the government for three weeks -- providing level funding with no gimmicks and giving us the space to hammer out a long-term solution. The next day, the President announced his support for our framework. The legislation we passed finally ended the shutdown, put our 800,000 federal workers back to work with back-pay, and allowed Congress and the President to move forward with negotiations. Right now, I’m working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come to an agreement to keep our government open.

Thank you to everyone who shared their stories and reached out to urge an end to the shutdown. Your voices truly made a difference and helped us reopen the government.

Chris Van Hollen

Throughout the shutdown, my first priority was to reopen the government, to ensure that our civil servants and federal service contractors received their pay, and to end the growing harm wreaked on the country and our economy. I spoke firsthand with hundreds of Marylanders who were struggling to get by under the weight of its impacts. From trying to put food on the table, to making rent or mortgage payments, to paying for child care and lifesaving medicines -- the hardship caused by the shutdown was real and painful for many families across our country. In addition to those who were directly hurt, we also heard from local businesses who were suffering from the shutdown’s repercussions. And President Trump’s own economic advisers recently admitted that the shutdown was far more damaging to our economy than they first estimated.

During the shutdown, Senator Cardin and I led the successful fight to pass the Federal Employee Fair Treatment Act in the Senate. This legislation guaranteed that federal workers received back-pay when the government reopened -- and applies to any future shutdowns that may occur. While that bill provided needed certainty that federal employees would eventually get paid, they still faced daily financial hardships as their pay stopped while their bills kept coming. That’s why I am pushing for legislation to protect federal workers and their families from foreclosures, evictions, and loan defaults during a shutdown, and why I led a letter with Senators Cardin, Kaine, and Warner urging the President to meet with federal employees -- not just a group hand-selected by his staff -- but the men and women who suffered the consequences of this shutdown every day.

Since the shutdown ended, I authored a bipartisan letter with 28 of my colleagues to Margaret M. Weichert, Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), urging the Administration to provide back-pay for federal workers as soon as possible. In addition, while President Trump imposed a pay freeze for federal employees for 2019, I have introduced legislation to provide them with a 2.6 percent cost of living increase. The House of Representatives passed the companion legislation to this measure on Wednesday, and I will be pressing my Senate colleagues to bring it up immediately.

In addition to these efforts, I have sponsored the plan to secure back-pay for federal service contractors. From kitchen workers and maintenance staff to janitors and construction workers, federal contract employees perform some of the most thankless yet essential jobs that support our government daily. These are often low-wage jobs that cause these workers to live paycheck to paycheck. You can watch a roundtable I hosted with Senator Tina Smith, Senator Ben Cardin, and federal contract employees to discuss this issue and our legislation here. I’m continuing to fight for this to be included in any final funding agreement.

During the shutdown, I also worked to protect those impacted by some of the less obvious consequences. I sent a letter to banks, lenders, and financial institutions asking them to work with their customers who were hit by the shutdown and were at risk of falling behind on their monthly bills. I urged President Trump to address the direct and immediate consequences of the shutdown on housing security for more than four million Americans across the country who rely on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) rental assistance initiatives. And I asked childcare organizations to provide financial flexibility for parents and guardians affected. Lastly, I asked OPM to do everything in its power to prevent the termination of dental and vision insurance coverage for federal employees.

Highlighting the stories of real people who felt the impacts of the shutdown was critical to reopening the government. During the shutdown, I participated in roundtables with federal employees and federal contract workers in Largo and Laurel; rallies in Downtown D.C. and Silver Spring; and discussions with small business owners at the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce and in Baltimore and Rockville. In addition to your calls and emails, I collected personal testimonials from folks across Maryland on how the shutdown was affecting them and shared many of those stories with my colleagues during speeches on the Senate floor. Also, as a demonstration of solidarity with the 800,000 federal employees who did not get paid during the shutdown, I had my pay withheld as well. 

I believe that we can reach a bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate to keep the government open. The wild card remains President Trump. This dispute has never been about the need for strong border security. There is broad bipartisan support for ensuring that we have secure borders. I serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee and, on a bipartisan basis, we approved Trump’s original budget request for $1.6 billion for physical border security, including funding for some additional miles of pedestrian fencing similar to the barriers that already exist along significant parts of the border. But then the President suddenly changed his request to $5.7 billion as a down-payment on over $30 billion for an almost 2,000-mile wall — which is a total waste of American taxpayer money (and he did say Mexico would pay for it). Moreover, the Congress cannot reward the unacceptable tactic of shutting down the government whenever the President cannot get things 100% his way. That would be a formula for perpetual government shutdowns. 

I will continue to work with my colleagues to keep the government open. Thank you for your continued engagement on the many vital issues facing Maryland and our country.