Amid the longest-ever federal shutdown, Rick Scott called a solo press conference on Thursday to address “Washington dysfunction,” an unusual move in the U.S. Senate, where rank-and-file lawmakers typically pair up or gather in groups in front of the cameras.
The former governor, who campaigned on a slogan to “Make Washington Work,” is unable to force action as the most junior Republican in the Senate. As governor he passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act against the wishes of the National Rifle Association and liberal Democrats weeks after the Parkland school shooting. In Washington, Scott is following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lead.
Florida’s Republican leaders in Washington don’t have the power to end a government shutdown on their own, but Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio aren’t publicly offering any ideas to resolve the current impasse between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over border-wall funding.
Thousands of federal employees aren’t getting paid while negotiations between the president and House and Senate leaders are largely at a standstill.
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During his 10-minute press conference, Scott’s only substantive contribution to alleviate part of the shutdown’s effects was signing on to a relatively uncontroversial bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that would make sure Florida’s 5,000 Coast Guard members get paid during the shutdown, a proposal also backed by Rubio. Scott’s other ideas, such as suspending congressional pay and demanding that lawmakers stay in Washington over Martin Luther King Day, do nothing to resolve differences.
“It’s frustrating to me to watch how our government’s shut down,” Scott said. “The Coast Guard’s not getting paid. Other people are not getting paid and we’re not going down the path to secure our border.”
A spokesperson for Scott did not immediately respond when asked if Scott is choosing to stay in Washington over the upcoming MLK holiday weekend.
Scott and Rubio have supported McConnell’s decision not to take up government spending bills passed by the Democratic-led House in the past two weeks. When asked if the Senate should begin voting on bills and allowing amendments to resolve differences, or at least to show where lawmakers stand on Trump’s unconditional demand for border-wall funding, Scott deflected the question and said the impetus for negotiation is on those who disagree with the president.
“One thing I learned as governor is that you’ve got to work through the process,” Scott said. “The Senate is part of it, the House is part of it. The bottom line is it has to be a negotiation between the president and anybody that doesn’t want to” fund a border wall.
Rubio described the Democrats’ position of no discussion on border-wall funding until the government is open as demanding “unconditional surrender” and ignoring the “dire humanitarian crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The current Democratic position on shutdown is ‘no compromise’ & @POTUS unconditional surrender on border security,” Rubio tweeted this week. “What happened to all the lectures from commentators about the need to compromise? I guess for them ‘compromise’ means when 3 or 4 Reps vote with the Dems.”
Scott did offer vague support for Trump declaring a national emergency to fund the border wall, saying the president “should look at every option he has.” It’s not clear how the president would find $5.7 billion for his wall by declaring an emergency, an action that would almost certainly set off litigation. Reports last week suggested that the president could divert Army Corps of Engineers disaster relief money to pay for it, a pot of money that includes $802 million for Florida projects.
Congress doesn’t need the president to end the shutdown, but it would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override Trump’s expected veto. So far, fewer than a dozen House Republicans have voted in favor of Democratic-led bills to open portions of the government, and the Republican-led Senate hasn’t voted on the bills passed by the House.
Unlike during the 2013 government shutdown, congressional staffers are being paid because a bill that funds the legislative branch already became law. Lawmaker salaries are written into law and not affected by the shutdown, though many have said they will donate their pay.
Miami’s Democratic House delegation has hosted multiple press conferences, highlighting the on-the-ground effects of the ongoing shutdown, like Miami International Airport’s decision to close a security checkpoint last weekend because TSA agents are forced to work without pay.
“This shutdown must end. It is preposterous to punish thousands of Americans for political gain,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said in her first floor speech on Wednesday night. “The Senate has a constitutional duty and it must rein in this reckless president.”
Though Scott said he doesn’t believe in shutting down the government to push political issues and expressed worry for how federal employees make ends meet with $0 paychecks, he now has to respond to a president who initiated the ongoing 27-day stand off in December with 24 hours notice. The political distance the governor’s mansion provides from Washington’s dysfunction is gone.
“The buck always stops,” Scott said when asked if the chief executive is responsible for keeping the government running, before trailing off and saying “everybody’s responsible.”