An impasse over funding for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall led to a partial shutdown of the federal government just days before Christmas.
And despite Trump’s promise to take ownership of the shutdown during a fiery exchange with top Democratic lawmakers earlier this month in the Oval Office, plenty of blame is being thrown elsewhere.
“The Democrats now own the shutdown!” the Republican president posted to Twitter on Friday morning.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., retweeted Trump but with a different message, “Yeah, not how that works, but good try.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he supports “Trump’s request for $5 billion to fund border security,” the main sticking point that held up the funding bill needed to keep the government open.
“I hope Democrats come to the table and work with congressional Republicans and President Trump to arrive at a reasonable resolution,” Grassley wrote in a statement. “There’s no reason we can’t keep the government open and protect our nation’s borders.”
Democrats, not surprisingly, had a different take.
“Let’s be clear — this government shutdown, driven by House Republicans and the president, was completely avoidable,” U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., wrote in a statement. “Washington’s constant culture of failure and ineffectiveness was on full display this week, and families across the Heartland are understandably frustrated.”
Christopher Larimer, a professor of politics at University of Northern Iowa, said essential services, such as Medicare and the Transportation Security Administration, will continue to function throughout the shutdown.
“Those things are not shut down in the sense that those things are still being provided,” he said. “For some of them, like border security and TSA, my understanding is they’re going to be working, but they’re working without pay.”
Larimer said he doesn’t “see the Democrats moving on this at all.” And among moderate Republicans, a physical border wall isn’t seen as an immediate priority.
“There isn’t widespread Republican support for the wall,” he said. “Among more moderate Republican senators at least. There are some that don’t see this as a reason to shut down the government.”
FIRST STEP ACT SIGNED
Amid the chaos of partisan gridlock on Friday emerged a rare show of cross-party unity.
A far-reaching bill to reform the country’s criminal justice system achieved a rare victory, earning bipartisan support as it sailed through both chambers of the U.S. Legislature.
A trio of U.S. senators from the tri-state area can take much of the credit for the First Step Act, which was signed by Trump on Friday.
Grassley co-authored the bill that became the First Step Act with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois. The bill later earned a sponsor in the Senate in Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin.
“I think we showed something (Wednesday) night which most American people wouldn’t have believed — that a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day,” Durbin wrote in a statement after the Senate passed the bill on a 87-12 vote.
The bill lessens strict sentencing guidelines and redirects money to crime-prevention efforts. It also requires the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to house federal prisoners closer to loved ones, provides relief to people serving sentences related to crack cocaine convictions and adds accountability.
“After years of hard work and dedication, Congress has notched a big victory for families, taxpayers, fairness and justice,” Grassley said in a statement.
The bill didn’t receive universal praise, however.
“Like most pieces of legislation, it is not perfect, and provisions I hope to see included were not adopted,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement. “Nevertheless, I believe the potential positives outweighed my concerns, and I voted to support it.”
POCAN DEMANDS RESPONSE TO ICE FOIA REQUEST
Pocan is demanding answers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the federal agency has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request sent more than two months ago.
On Oct. 12, Pocan submitted the FOIA request seeking information about recent raids in Wisconsin. He asked for all communication between ICE and local law enforcement, a complete breakdown of alleged offenses committed by 83 detainees and information about where and how they were detained.
In a letter issued Dec. 17 — more than two months after his inquiry — Pocan took the agency to task over its failure to respond.
“The inability to provide this straightforward information or comply with the FOIA request in a timely manner underscores a very troubling lack of accountability that seems to be pervasive within the agency,” Pocan wrote. “Further delays on this request will not be granted, and I urge you to move expeditiously to provide the requested information.”
WISCONSIN LAWMAKERS APPOINTED TO COMMITTEE LEADERSHIP POSITIONS
Southwest Wisconsin lawmakers have been appointed to leadership positions on state Legislature committees.
Wisconsin Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, will chair the Assembly Committee on Local Government, according to a press release. In making the announcement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, noted Novak’s prior experience as mayor of Dodgeville as an advantage.
“Rep. Novak has a strong record of working on behalf of cities, villages, towns and counties across our state,” Vos said in a press release.
State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, will chair the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture. He also will serve vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee in 2019.
“My committee assignments reflect the Senate’s commitment to giving rural Wisconsin a strong voice on important issues such as transportation, agriculture, taxes and natural resources,” Marklein wrote in a statement.