Press Briefing by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short on the Government Shutdown
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EST
MR. SHORT: Good afternoon. This morning, the President has spoken to Leader McConnell and to Speaker Ryan, to Leader McCarthy. He also received updates from Secretary Nielsen about the impacts of payments not -- salary not going to our border agents. He also spoke with Secretary Mattis, who gave him an update about 90,000 National Guardsmen and 20,000 Army Reservists who have had their training cancelled because of the government shutdown; additional costs that they've had to incur, including they have to pick up their own pay and travel costs.
We stand here ready to sign the bill that the House passed last night, anxious to keep the government open -- or, I should say, to reopen the government. The White House position, though, remains the same: that we will not negotiate the status of 690,000 unlawful immigrants while hundreds of millions of taxpaying Americans, including hundreds of thousands of our troops in uniform and border agents protecting our country are held hostage by Senate Democrats.
We continue to remain anxious to reach a deal on DACA, and we look forward to resuming those negotiations as soon as the Senate Democrats reopen the government.
The reality, though, that is difficult for, I think, many Americans to understand is, if you put forward a bill that continues funding the government, reauthorizes health insurance for 9 million children, provides a relief of taxes that Democrats and Republicans on a bipartisan basis, the rational for shutting down the government over a bill that Republicans and Democrats agree with on the basis of saying, "We will not negotiate, we will not reach a resolution to open the government until there's a solution on a tangential issue that remains plenty of time to be solved," I think a lot of Americans have a hard time understanding how you make the argument of why we're not going to pay our men and women in uniform, our agents serving on the border, in order to try to resolve an issue that we also want to resolve related to unlawful residents.
We look forward, I think, that the Senate Majority Leader is going to offer -- as you know, has already offered a continuing resolution that goes to three weeks instead of the original four weeks. We look forward to that vote. We hope that Senate Democrats will yield and accept that their position is unreasonable, and reopen the government to make sure that our men and women in uniform continue to get paid.
Director of OMB, Mick Mulvaney, is here to address the status of the update and how it's impacting government agencies, and then we'll take a few questions.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Good morning -- or good afternoon. A couple different things. I'll walk through some of the -- how a lapse in appropriations, a shutdown works. Keep in mind, the technical term, the legal term, is actually a lapse in appropriations. So when you saw the notices go out today, they reference a lapse. That is the formal name for the shutdown.
This morning -- early this morning, federal workers got notices from their various agencies as to whether they were exempt or furloughed employees. They, sort of, fell into three categories: either you were exempt and you were to come to work either today or Monday, depending on your ordinary work schedule; you were absolutely furloughed, in which case you were not to come to work beginning today and going over to Monday; or there's actually another group of people that would show up for a few hours on Monday or today, up to four hours, in order to close down shop or prepare for the lapse. So those notices went out today.
I mentioned yesterday that this shutdown, this lapse, would look different than it did in 2013. We're already seeing evidence of that, and I want to walk you folks through a couple ways it's already different.
In 2013, most of the EPA shut down immediately during the lapse. The EPA this year, consistent with OMB guidance and direction from the President, is using its unobligated balances, what we call those carry-forward funds. Most of the agency will remain open, like several years ago.
Mine safety inspection: The number of inspectors that will be on the job for mine safety inspections will increase from 25 percent of the total in 2013 to 50 percent. Here, again, part of the administration's intentional plan to use unobligated funds that are already at the agency -- something the previous administration did not emphasize.
Cybersecurity: Agencies will ensure that staff working on the maintenance and safeguarding of IT systems will continue to work during the lapse, and that systems will continue to get their critical updates.
National parks: You may have already noticed that the parks, national monuments, private concessions -- private concessions that serve them -- are open. As I mentioned yesterday, won't be picking up the trash or cleaning the bathrooms.
Number five, trade negotiations: During the last shutdown, I think the Obama administration cancelled a few very high-level trade negotiations. By contrast, this year, the USTR will use its funding flexibilities. We talked, again, about the ability to use carry-forward funds; the ability to use transfer of funds from one account to another in order to continue round six of the NAFTA negotiations later this week.
Finally, the last example I have is that the Merchant Marine Academy was closed during the 2013 shutdown. It will stay open.
There's another important example that doesn't compare apples to apples to 2013, but it is, sort of, evidence of how we're managing this differently than the Democrats did during the 2013 shutdown. After working closely with the White House, with OMB, to review the exceptions allowed in the law for agencies to continue to operate if their work is necessary to protect life and safety, the CDC has announced this morning they will continue immediate response work and surveillance to protect Americans from seasonal influenza.
So we'll have continued updates on that either later today or tomorrow as to how the shutdown, how the lapse, if it continues, is managed.
With that, I think we'll take a couple of questions.
Q: I'm wondering how concerned you are that -- if we look at social media, Twitter, hashtags trending -- that "Trump Shutdown" seems to be far surpassing "Democrat Shutdown" or "GOP Shutdown." How concerned are you that the onus of this by the public seems to be on the President?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: My favorite is still the "Schumer Shutdown." It's got that nice little ring to it, doesn't it?
Q: (Inaudible) Senator Schumer -- he says he left the meeting yesterday with the President thinking he had arrived at the broad outlines of a deal and that something happened that the President changed his mind. Senator Schumer says that he relented under pressure from the far right. What's your account of that meeting? I know you weren't in the room, but what's the White House account of the meeting?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah, I was in that meeting. But I did talk to the Chief about it this morning, and I'll give you an example of how Mr. Schumer is mischaracterizing the discussions. One of the things that, according to the Chief, that Mr. Schumer told the President was that, 'I will give you all of the money that you want for your wall.' And the President said, 'Oh, that's great, I need $20 billion to build the whole wall.' And Mr. Schumer said, 'Oh, no, no, only $1.6 [billion]. That's all you asked for last year in the 2018 budget' -- which I happened to write.
We had a $1.6 billion request in the 2018 budget that we'd like to see in the 2018 appropriations bill. That is not all of the money for the wall, nor was it ever intended to be all the money for the wall. But Chuck Schumer actually had the gall to look at the President and said, 'I'm giving you everything you asked for the wall,' and then when pressed, admitted that he wasn't doing it.
That's the type of negotiation that Mr. Schumer has been engaged with the President. And you have to ask yourself, at what point does it even become profitable to continue to work with somebody like that? So Mr. Schumer is going to have to up his game a little bit and be a little bit more honest with the President of the United States if we're going to see progress on that front.
Q: One question for you, but two quick ones before that. How long will this shutdown last?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: You have to ask Congress. Again, the Democrats in the Senate could end this shutdown today.
Q: What are you planning for? Days? Weeks?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: We plan mostly a day at a time. If you, sort of, look, there's different sort of things on the horizon. For example, we have a pay period on Friday that would be one, sort of, goalpost. But we'll manage this day by day. The funds that I mentioned, some agencies are sitting on quite a bit of carry-forward funds. They could go out longer without being impacted; and some have none, so they'd be impacted immediately. So there's no real individual answer to that.
Q: And I want to ask about the short-term. But before, is the President still going to go to Davos if Monday morning the government is shut down?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: My understanding is that the President -- we just talked about this beforehand -- that the President will not be going to Florida now. And we're taking Davos, both from the President's perspective and the Cabinet perspective, on a day-by-day basis.
Q: And then -- so on the short-term CR, obviously Democrats want (inaudible) -- you guys aren't going to talk about immigration right now; you'll talk about it after you get through this government shutdown. There's been talk among Democrats of trust issues. There's been talk from the President about trust issues. So if Democrats do agree on this short-term CR and to address immigration later, why should Democrats think they should trust this President on that?
MR. SHORT: Hallie, I would say again that -- step back for a second to where we were in asking Congress to address this when General Kelly first became the DHS Secretary, providing to Congress what we asked for in October as far as principles, and then refining that again. And I know that there's been some questions, saying that there's -- I think Senator Schumer today said there's lack of clarity as to what the White House is asking for. I don't think there's lack of clarity. Here's the principles we set up in September; seven pages sent up to Congress to say, here are the things we're asking for in the four broad categories.
Over the course of the negotiations and conversations, there was a sense that it needs to be refined. So what we sent back several weeks ago was a three-page document that pulled off some of the items that we were asking for off the table, particularly on interior enforcement.
And then there were meetings here at the White House, bipartisan in nature, with leadership -- Republicans and Democrats -- that many of you covered and was shown to the national audience. In that conversation at the end, there was agreement that there would be four principals leading the negotiations: Kevin McCarthy, Senator Durbin, Senator Cornyn, and Steny Hoyer.
That is the process that we have put in place, and it continues to focus on those four principles.
What I would simply add to Director Mulvaney's comments is that I would look at it is as progress that, in fact, Democrats are now willing to accept funding for border security and physical barriers. That is a step forward, as well. There's some areas where we have given some ground, which is, they want a broader definition of that DACA population. To me, that is progress; all the more reason to, if we're making progress, why are we shutting down the government? Why are we shutting it down? We were making progress, and we're anxious to resume those conversations, but we're not going to be held hostage and let our troops be held hostage over this.
When they reopen the government, we will continue the discussions.
Q: Marc, can I ask you a question about -- this is the one-year anniversary of the President being sworn into office. How does this White House feel to have a shutdown one year after the President was sworn in?
MR. SHORT: Well, Jim, I think it's disappointing that Congress has chosen to shut down the government, and particularly Senate Democrats have, at the one-year anniversary. But --
Q: Is it a reflection at all of the leadership coming out of the White House?
MR. SHORT: I think it's a reflection, candidly, of the position that many in the Democrat Party find themselves in. For this reason, I think that there are many Democrat actors who look at all the administration has accomplished over the year, and they've pushed their leadership to say, we want something to shut down the government. Meaning, they look back and say, the largest tax cut in history; they say, you repealed the individual mandate. They look at the regulatory rollback. They look at what's happened with $7 trillion added to the stock markets. They see more circuit court judges ever confirmed in one year. They see a new Supreme Court justice confirmed.
Those are things that we look as tremendous progress, but I know that they're captive by a small base in their party, and they're saying, we demand a shutdown. So I do think they're related. They look at the accomplishments of the last year and all this administration has accomplished, and their reaction is, "Because we can't beat them, what we're going to do is we're going to shut down the government."
Q: And, Director Mulvaney, just for the benefit of the public, can you go over -- and I have another substantive question on the politics -- but on entitlement payments, Social Security, Medicare, can you, just for the public, let them know what --
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah, we'll just reaffirm the conversation we had yesterday.
Q: -- regardless of how long this lasts, what happens and what are the implications there?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah, the technical answer is that if the source of funds is non-appropriated -- "mandatory" would be the largest component of that -- then the funds will continue to flow. The practical application of that general rule is that Social Security checks will go out.
Q: And any other entitlements covered by that, is that a guarantee as well?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Again, if it's not appropriated -- generally speaking, the answer is, yes.
Q: So, Marc and Mick, both of you, you either worked for or you were a member of Congress at times when you thought it was a matter of principle, when you had political leverage, to withhold votes on behalf of a principle you thought was important --
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah.
Q: -- ideologically. Do you have any sympathy for Democrats who believe they are doing that now, under these circumstances, because they believe, as a matter principle -- and it might be politics -- but, Marc, you know this, and, Mick, you know this -- back when you were doing that, you were accused of being the small base responding to activist pressure to do something that was viewed by the (inaudible) administration as wrong.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: I might have a lot more sympathy if I hadn't been accused at that time of being an "arsonist." But keep in mind, this is different in that, in 2013, we were being asked to vote something that -- vote for something that we did not like. The funding bill that was put before us in 2013 included funding for Obamacare. We objected to that, and for that reason refused to vote for that funding bill.
We have a funding bill today, sitting in the Senate, that senators do not oppose. They support all individual pieces of it. We've talked about CHIP, we've talked about the delay in the Cadillac tax, the medical device tax; talked about the fact that they're generally okay with CRs. That's one of the primary differences there: We were asked to vote for something in 2013 that we did not approve of. That is not the circumstance here.
Here, they are simply taking advantage of the situation to insert not only a new topic, but -- Marc may have mentioned this earlier -- they've now introduced even another topic. I think you heard Mr. Schumer talk about just it earlier today. Now they want to talk about bailing out union pension funds. That's a new $60 billion topic that has been interjected to the conversation today.
So, clearly, things are out of control on the Senate side.
Q: (Inaudible) you mentioned this earlier. Do you really believe Democrats are not negotiating in good faith and, therefore, this can't be resolved?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: You can't -- I don't think it's ever fair to get into somebody else's mental state. I don't know what happens in your mind; you don't know what's happening in my mind. So I don't want to speak to someone else's good faith. I'm just saying it's extraordinarily difficult to negotiate with people who won't vote for something they like in order to raise a non-financial, non-fiscal issue as a part of a spending bill.
We got time for one more.
Q: In 2013, Mr. Trump was critical of President Obama's handling of the shutdown. He said, "You have to get everybody in a room. You have to be a leader. The President has to lead." Why isn't he following his own advice?
MR. SHORT: I guess I would say that is what he is doing. If you look back to last week in the meeting that he had to discuss DACA, which seems to be the one issue they have complaints about, he brought together 20 different members from both the House and the Senate in bipartisan fashion. He's continued to remain on the phone. He helped to encourage the bill that got passed in the House on Thursday. It was his influence to help make sure it passed just to keep the government open.
And following up on Major's question, just to, I think, reinforce what Mick said, I think that what's hard for us to understand in other times when there's been, I think, an argument over principle -- there is nothing in this bill Democrats say they object to; yet it's like a two-year-old temper tantrum to say, I'm going to take my toys and go home because I'm upset about something else. It has nothing to do with this bill. And Senate Democrats are basically conducting a two-year-old temper tantrum in front of all of the American people.
Q: Marc, what's the shortest CR the White House would be willing to accept? You said there would be a three-week CR offered in the Senate. Some Democrats have said they'd vote for something that days long. What's the minimum this White House would take?
MR. SHORT: Matt, I'm not going to negotiate that in the national press, or what we would or wouldn't take, hypothetically. I think the reality is that there is a bill that passed the House that the President said he would sign to give us four weeks to continue the DACA negotiations. We have now agreed to reduce that to three weeks. We think that that is a concession on our part. Leader McConnell has offered that. I hope that Democrats come to their senses and support that, and keep the government open.
Q: I know, yesterday, members of the administration were saying that they felt pretty confident that we'd be able to avoid a shutdown by, hopefully, end of today. You all have been up on Capitol Hill today meeting with lawmakers. Based on those conversations, where are you at now?
MR. SHORT: Well, I was confident that we'd avoid a shutdown, because, again, everything in this bill are programs that I think Democrats have advocated for. So I was wrong. I'm not going to get back into the job of handicapping what I think the chances are today. As I said, I'm just hopeful that Democrats recognize the harm they're doing to our Border Patrol agents, the harm they're doing to our troops serving overseas, and the reality and inconveniences they're placing on millions and millions of Americans. It's time to get the government open again.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Keep in mind, when we handicap a bill, one of the things we try -- the likelihood of passage is, can we get a bill together that people can and will support because what's in the bill is acceptable to them. And that's one of the reasons, I think, Marc and I shared the opinion that this was going to pass -- again, because it was acceptable to the Democrats.
Once folks of either party started inserting completely new and unrelated topics into a negotiation, then it's impossible to predict.
Thank you all very much. We'll do this again tomorrow.
END 2:39 P.M. EST
Donald J. Trump, Press Briefing by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short on the Government Shutdown Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/332002