USGS to close, VA stays open as federal shutdown hits the Peninsula

UPDATE, 3 P.M.: Congress sped toward reopening the government late Monday as Democrats reluctantly voted to temporarily pay for resumed operations. They relented in return for Republican assurances that the Senate will soon take up the plight of young immigrant “dreamers” and other contentious issues.

The vote set the stage for hundreds of thousands of federal workers to return on Tuesday, cutting short what could have become a messy and costly impasse. The House approved the measure shortly thereafter, sending the spending bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.

But by relenting, the Democrats prompted a backlash from immigration activists and liberal base supporters who wanted them to fight longer and harder for legislation to protect from deportation the 700,000 or so younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally.

From staff and wire reports

Employees of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, one of the largest federal facilities in the mid-Peninsula, have been told to come into work today (Jan. 22) to close the campus down because of the federal government shutdown.

However, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs hospitals in Palo Alto and Menlo Park will remain open because they’re considered “essential” government operations.

The post office will continue to deliver the mail because that agency receives funding through postage and is separate from the rest of the federal government.

Of the 4.1 million people who work for the federal government, about 80% will remain on the job today. Only non-essential operations are closing, such as the National Parks.
The Phleger Estate, a park northwest of Woodside that is the southernmost stretch of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, will be closed to visitors, according to an employee of the Presidio Visitor Center.

Two NASA spokeswomen at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field declined to say last week how a shutdown would affect their facility.

At the USGS, workers will return today to close the campus down by setting up email responders and outgoing phone messages. The Menlo Park USGS office has about 500 employees.

“We don’t like when we shut down. We would rather be working. But this is what’s legal and how our government works,” USGS spokeswoman Leslie Gordon told the Post.
Fewer than 70 USGS employees nationwide will be retained during a shutdown.

Senate vote this morning

Yesterday in Washington, the Senate inched closer but ultimately fell short of an agreement that would have reopened federal agencies before the beginning of the workweek.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said negotiations were underway late last night, with a vote to break a Democratic filibuster on a short-term funding bill scheduled for noon today (9 a.m. Pacific Time).

Under the proposal taking shape, Democrats would agree to a three-week spending measure — until Feb. 8 — in return for a commitment from the Senate Republican leadership to address immigration policy during that period.

Republicans have appeared increasingly confident that Democrats were bearing the brunt of criticism for the shutdown and that they would ultimately buckle. There were indications yesterday that Democratic resolve was beginning to waver, with growing worries that a prolonged shutdown could prove to be an electoral headache for the party just as it has grown more confident about prospects in November.

Blame game

Although they initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal, Democrats had shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and President Trump.
The shutdown began Friday at midnight (9 p.m. Pacific) after Democrats blocked a temporary spending measure. Democrats have sought to use the spending bill to win concessions, including protections for roughly 700,000 younger immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, had been a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. He has not appeared in public since Friday afternoon. The White House said he was in regular contact with Republican leaders, but he has not reached out to any Democrats, a White House official said.

Yesterday morning on Twitter, he called on the GOP-controlled Senate to consider deploying the “nuclear option” — changing Senate rules to end the filibuster — and reopen the government with a simple majority.

McConnell has dismissed that option, saying Republicans will welcome the filibuster when they return to being the Senate minority. The White House didn’t immediately respond to McConnell’s comments.

Democrats are facing intense pressure from their base to solve the issue over the young immigrants, and they are skeptical of Republicans’ credibility when offering to take up the issue. Whether Trump would back the emerging plan or any later proposal on immigration is an open question. Even if the Senate voted on an immigration proposal, its prospects in the House would be grim.

Throughout the day there were few outward signs of progress, as lawmakers took turns delivering animated speeches to near empty chambers to explain why the other party is to blame. McConnell and Schumer met off the Senate floor in the early evening, as many in quiet Capitol offices flipped their television screens to playoff football games.

Signs of the shutdown

While lawmakers feuded, signs of the shutdown were evident at national parks and in some federal agencies. Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.

Lawmakers were mindful that the political stakes would soar this morning, when thousands of federal workers would be told to stay home or, in many cases, work without pay. What was still a weekend burst of Washington dysfunction could spiral into a broader crisis with political consequences in November’s midterm elections.

That threat prompted a bipartisan group of Senate moderates to huddle for a second day yesterday in hopes of crafting a plan to reopen the government. The group was set to meet again this morning.

The emerging approach found advocates in South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been trying to broker an immigration deal, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans who rejected an earlier short-term proposal. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, another previous no-vote, announced he would vote in favor of reopening the government today.

Graham said no deal had been reached by the moderate group because Democrats were not yet on board. “To my Democratic friends, don’t overplay your hand,” he told reporters. “A government shutdown is not a good way to get an outcome legislatively.”

The vote today will prove to be a test of unity and resolve among Democrats. Five Democrats from states won by Trump broke ranks in a vote Friday. The measure gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.