Evan Vucci, AP File Photo

Sen. Mitt Romney says Trump called Democrats' bluff in ending government shutdown

By Dennis Romboy, KSL | Posted - Jan 25th, 2019 @ 5:47pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney says President Donald Trump called Democrats' bluff in making a short-term deal to reopen the federal government to work out an agreement to fund border security and avoid another shutdown.

"This decision to reopen government for three weeks basically says to the Democrats, 'OK, now put up or shut up,'" the Utah Republican said.

Democrats have repeatedly called for ending the shutdown so 800,000 federal workers can start collecting paychecks again while congressional leaders and the president negotiate a final agreement.

"So the president calls their bluff and says, 'OK, we'll open government. Now it's your turn to actually come up with a deal that helps us secure the border,'" Romney said.

Trump announced an end to the 35-day impasse Friday, but warned that if money for a wall isn't part of an agreement by Feb. 15, he could still declare an emergency on the southern border to get the funding.

Utah members of Congress hailed the temporary deal, which the Senate and House passed on a voice votes hours after Trump's speech.

"It is of course a relief that the shutdown is over. But the shutdown was not created by the crisis on the border. It was created by the failure of Congress to do its job," said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Lee said the way Congress is doing things now is convenient for politicians, but not for the American people.

"Government funding and immigration policy shouldn’t be a secret negotiation, but an open debate on the floors of the House and Senate," he said.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, echoed Romney in putting the ball in Democrats' court.

"Now is the time to end the political theatrics and for the Democrats to join Republicans in offering serious border security proposals. The Democrats have said all along: ‘Open the government, then we’ll negotiate.’ Now is the time for them to honor that promise," he said.

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Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, was among those calling to end the shutdown and then hold talks on homeland security funding.

"I’m ready to roll up my sleeves as a member of Congress and begin the bipartisan work of funding government operations, fully restoring public access to services, reforming our immigration system and returning to normal legislative business," he said.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he plans to support the temporary deal. He said he's been calling for Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise since the start of the shutdown.

“The people of Utah have had enough of this shutdown and are ready to see us get back to work solving the country’s problems," he said. "I’m glad to see a solution brought forward to open the government and allow us to address critical border security needs."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said it's about time federal workers were paid.

"However, I can’t yet celebrate until we find a lasting solution, which includes a secure border. Now let’s do it," he said.

Romney said although Congress and the president agree to reopen government for three weeks, Trump and the Republicans will not back away from funding for a border wall.

Furloughed workers at the Internal Revenue Service center in Ogden will be among those federal employees back on the job.

"We're hopeful that it's not just a Band-aid for three weeks and we're shutting down again, said Krystal Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for the National Treasury Employees Union chapter 67, which represents 4,000 IRS workers in Ogden.

The union canceled a second rally planned for next week as a result of Friday's deal. "Hopefully, we'll be busy working," she said.

But Kirkpatrick said the rally would be on again if Congress and the president fail to reach an agreement and government shuts down again.

"I really, really hope that it goes great. But the realist in me says that if they didn't figure it out in six weeks, how are they going to figure it out in three," she said.

Friday's breakthrough came as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey experienced at least 90-minute delays in takeoffs due to a lack of air traffic controllers.

"It's unquestionably going to build the pressure, and I hope it does," Stewart said in an interview earlier Friday. "I hope the pressure continues to build to force these three leaders — Pelosi, Schumer and the president — to the table once again."

Among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Trump, Stewart said he believes Schumer is the key.

Meantime, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski talked with Pelosi on Thursday while in Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"The speaker was very clear that she is frustrated with (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell. She feels like Sen. McConnell is really involved in this shutdown in an extreme way and is part of the problem," Biskupski said. "It's not just the president but Mitch McConnell is one of the barriers."

Biskupski, also speaking before Trump announced the deal, said Pelosi asked mayors, particularly Republican mayors, to push their members of Congress to open the government and work on policy differences later.

"We need to take the politics out of this and get the government back up and running and then figure out how to come to some sort of compromise," she said.

Stewart said the Thursday votes in the Senate, even though they failed, were an important step to breaking the gridlock. At least there was a legislative effort, and more importantly, it engaged Schumer, he said.

"I think Speaker Pelosi is so entrenched, she's so dug into this thing about not one penny for a wall. I know Sen. Schumer is not as adamant about that and I think he might be the key to bring the parties together now," Stewart said.

Trump has tried to find a compromise, taking his demands for wall funding from $25 billion to $5.7 billion and agreeing to take care of immigrant children whose parents brought them into the U.S. illegally, he said.

"Pelosi has not done any of that," Stewart said. "I've never seen a scenario quite like this where you've got two sides that are so entrenched."

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