As President Trump weighs the extraordinary step of declaring a national emergency to unilaterally build a wall along the southern border, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) is urging Trump to return to the negotiating table and put federal employees back to work.
Like any member of Congress representing the D.C. suburbs, Beyer is no great fan of government shutdowns, which threaten the livelihoods of thousands of constituents in his Arlington and Alexandria-area district. But this latest, 18-day shutdown (now the second longest in the country’s history) is testing Beyer’s patience more than most.
He can’t understand what Trump hopes to achieve with his demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border, or why he’s worked with Congressional Republicans to shutter the government while this latest immigration debate plays out. Unlike some of his Democratic colleagues, Beyer feels there’s room to negotiate on the issue — but he remains puzzled by the president’s refusal to engage on the matter.
“I know Donald Trump didn’t write the ‘Art of the Deal,’ but he may not have read it either,” Beyer told ARLnow. “I don’t think Democrats are against spending $5 billion more on border security, but let’s work hard on the language to make sure it turns into something that actually makes a difference, rather than something that’s a campaign symbol… Maybe I spent too many years as an auto dealer, but I’m always looking for a win-win scenario.”
Beyer believes that Democrats in Congress could well be open to reviving the outlines of a bipartisan immigration deal hashed out among leaders last year, exchanging new funding for border security for new protections for people previously protected from deportation under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program. Yet Trump and other immigration hardliners in his party scuttled that arrangement the last time Congress squared off over the issue, and Beyer doesn’t see much reason for optimism this time around.
Furthermore, Beyer sees Trump’s intimations that he could use his emergency powers as president to bypass Congress and build the wall as “frightening.” Such an effort would undoubtedly face court challenges, as experts agree that there is no migration crisis currently afflicting the country, but speculation abounds that Trump could make an emergency declaration during his televised address from the White House tonight.
“It just ratchets up the tension and dissension far more than is appropriate,” Beyer said. “If the wall was so important, why did it take two whole years into his presidency before he put it into an appropriations bill? This is no national emergency.”
But should the shutdown continue, Beyer says his newly empowered colleagues in the House plan to “make it as easy as possible to open the government back up.” Starting today (Tuesday), he says Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin calling votes on bills to reopen one federal agency at a time.
That way, Beyer hopes that some important staffers — like those at the IRS preparing to mail out tax returns — could get back to work, even as the immigration debate drags on.
And that sort of tack would also allow many of Beyer’s constituents to start earning paychecks again.
He says he’s heard from thousands of federal workers, both in the D.C. area and around the country, who are suffering due to financial insecurity stemming from the shutdown. To that end, Beyer managed to help pass language to protect back pay for affected employees through the House, but fears Trump wouldn’t sign off on the change, even if it clears the Senate.
Beyer’s also backing efforts to secure pay for some federal contractors, as are Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.).
“Many people go into federal service because they cherish the idea of public service,” Beyer said. “No one does it for the money. The security is one of the small benefits. Or, at least, it used to be.”
Yet Beyer feels the shutdown is doing more than just unnecessarily squeezing his constituents — he believes its distracting Congress from other pressing priorities, particularly as Democrats regain control of the House for the first time in years.
Whenever Congress can return to normal business, Beyer thinks there is room for some agreement on bills he’s backing around issues like suicide prevention and wildlife conservation.
But he is cognizant of the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate, to say nothing of Trump’s veto pen, will limit how much he can actually pass over the next two years. That’s why he’s more enthusiastic about the new oversight powers Democrats gain now that they’re chairing House committees.
Beyer helped lead investigations into former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s conduct in office, and was one of Pruitt’s leading congressional critics before he resigned under a cloud of scandal. But Beyer is no great fan of Pruitt’s replacement, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist.
Accordingly, he sees plenty of room for more EPA oversight now that Democrats will wield expanded investigatory power, though he did sound a note of caution on the topic.
“It’s really important that oversight be genuine oversight, focused on things not going well in the executive branch rather than political witch hunts,” Beyer said. “There are lots of legitimate, responsible things we can do in oversight to just make America a better country, and we can do it with Republicans.”
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders will also command more control over the federal budget, and that gives Beyer hope for progress on one of his other big priorities: solving the vexing problem of aircraft noise in Arlington.
Beyer previously proposed budget amendments directing the Federal Aviation Administration to tinker with the flight paths of military helicopters and create a new website to allow people to report aircraft noise complaints. Yet both of those failed to gain any traction under Republican leadership, and he’s holding out hope to make progress on these “two good legislative investments” in the coming months.
“With people like [Majority Leader and Maryland Rep.] Steny Hoyer in control, he’s a D.C. resident, I’m much more optimistic that we will the have power to make a difference on this,” Beyer said.