Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president (a phrase that still feels nonsensical—like saying “yummy booger-flavored jelly beans”), the joke ran that, “At least now we know America can get by with no one in charge of the government!”
Well, color us abashed. We had no idea.
As of press time, Trump has taken “Mexican standoff” to a whole new level of literalism, shutting down the government for 25 days and counting, because Democrats refuse to give him $5.7 billion to build a wall along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border—which, as you may recall, “Mexico’s gonna pay for.”
When informed of this, former Mexican President Vicente Fox told Trump to quote-fuck off-unquote, which is basically what Nancy Pelosi is saying to him every day with her eyes.
Trump has vowed to keep the federal government shut down for “months or even years,” and to declare a national emergency to override Congress and build the wall without their approval.
Here’s what the shutdown is causing and will cause if it continues longer:
•By February, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will run out of money, leaving 43 million Americans with no way to buy food.
•Nearly 2,000 contracts between private landlords and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have lapsed, and about another 500 will continue to lapse every month. With 7,500 of their employees furloughed, health and safety inspections of public housing have ceased, and rental assistance payments will end any day now.
•The loss of these two benefits alone will lower the GDP by an estimated $108 billion. A prolonged shutdown will almost certainly trigger a recession.
•With only 12 percent of the Internal Revenue Service working—all without pay—taxpayers are still waiting for the final 2018 regulations. The 95 million phone calls the IRS receives every year will go mostly unanswered. The agency has vowed to get tax refunds in the mail, but anyone with even a slightly unusual filing can expect delays.
•800,000 federal employees are not getting paid, even though more than half of them are still expected to report to work. Trump suggested they try holding a garage sale or babysitting.
•So many airport workers have walked off the job that 6,000 flights per day are delayed or canceled. Security line waits at major airports are now stretching past the three-hour mark.
•One-third of national parks are closed and the rest are unstaffed. Trash and human feces are piling up; vehicles and pets are off-roading through sensitive ecosystems; and vandals are having a field day in some of America’s most beautiful and irreplaceable locations. Communities near national parks are losing $20 million a day in tourism revenue.
•The Food and Drug Administration has stopped almost all food inspections, resulting in outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Welcome to The Jungle—Upton Sinclair’s Jungle.
•The Environmental Protection Agency has scaled back inspections to almost zero. The victims of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, as well as California’s massive Camp Fire are without assistance. There are not enough EPA employees to respond to incidents of hazardous waste disposal or drinking water contamination.
•More than $140 billion dollars’ worth of Initial Public Offerings are stalled because no one is at the Securities and Exchange Commission to approve them. If companies sell off their shares, or banks reassess them at lower value, it could trigger a massive financial crisis.
•By spring, the Department of Agriculture will be forced to close every Farm Service Center in the country. Almost 40,000 farms have not received the loans they need to do their spring planting. At one New York dairy farm, an entire herd died of pneumonia because the farmer was unable to get veterinary care.
•More than 30 million small businesses, employing 59 million people, will be forced to close because the Small Business Administration is virtually closed.
•64,000 homebuyers, plus 150,000 veterans, will be unable to obtain mortgages or refinance. As many as 10,000 home owners per month may begin to default.
•The federal court system will run out of money on January 18. Probation and pretrial services are required to continue, but civil cases, victim reparations, and law enforcement training will cease. 42,000 immigration hearings have already been canceled, some involving parents and children who were separated at the border.
So, can Trump declare a national emergency and build his wall without Congress? Technically, yes.
The president has broad powers to declare an emergency and divert funds by fiat into military construction, which is what he’s claiming the board wall would be. He must notify and regularly update Congress, but they can only stop him by a majority vote in both chambers of Congress, and the Republican-controlled Senate would probably not vote to stop him—80 percent of Republicans support the shutdown in recent polls.
However, an emergency declaration would probably be challenged in court, and it’s far from clear whether the courts would consider the lack of a border wall to be a bona fide emergency worthy of overriding Congress.
In the meantime, all we can hope is that Senate Republicans grow a spine—or a conscience.