The longest government shutdown in history happened on Donald Trump’s watch. But the president made no mention of it in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The partial government shutdown lasted 35 days, affecting about 800,000 federal workers ― in addition to thousands of federal contractors. Government employees missed two paychecks, with many wondering how they would pay for essentials like food, medicine and housing. They looked for new jobs, turned to relatives and friends for temporary loans and went to food pantries.
The shutdown occurred because Trump insisted that Congress give him $5.7 billion to build a wall on the country’s southern border, even though he once promised that Mexico would pay for that barrier. Democrats refused to go along with his demand and said he should simply fund the government and argue about immigration later. He refused.
On Jan. 25, Trump caved and signed a bill funding the government for three weeks. He has insisted that if he doesn’t get his money for a wall by Feb. 15, he may declare a national emergency allowing him to build it anyway.
Trump never mentioned what federal workers went through during his speech Tuesday night. He expressed no remorse for the shutdown, and he didn’t promise that it wouldn’t happen again. The closest he came to referencing the shutdown was in urging Congress to fund the border wall when passing legislation to fund the government beyond Feb. 15.
“Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland and secure our southern border,” he said. “Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers out of business.”
Even Trump’s State of the Union address was affected by the shutdown. It was supposed to occur on Jan. 29, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) canceled it ― she has that power since the president delivers it in the Capitol ― and said they would discuss a new date only after the government reopened.
Trump’s approach is a break from what President Bill Clinton did in 1996, after what had previously been the longest shutdown ever. In his State of the Union speech that year, Clinton honored a heroic public servant who had been furloughed because of the shutdown. He then warned Congress to remember the pain of the shutdown when legislating in the future.
“On behalf of Richard Dean and his family and all the other people who are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people,” Clinton said. “I challenge all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.”
In the Democratic response to Trump’s address Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams ― who ran for governor of Georgia ― did address the shutdown.
“Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn’t received a paycheck in weeks. Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace,” she said. “The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people ― but our values.”