Republicans Are in Lock Step With Trump on Shutdown. But for How Long?

Republicans Are in Lock Step With Trump on Shutdown. But for How Long?

Downtown Parkersburg, W.Va., which has been hit hard by the government shutdown.CreditCreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — On Day 20 of the partial government shutdown last week, a small band of federal workers, shivering in 25-degree weather, staged a rally to send what their organizer, Eric Engle, said was a message to Senator Shelley Moore Capito: “We need to end this shutdown. If it takes overriding the president, that’s what it takes.”

But here in the heart of Trump country, that message is decidedly muffled, even in Parkersburg, where the federal government is one of the two largest employers. So strong is support for President Trump, who remains dug in on his demand for $ 5.7 billion to build a border wall, that even some furloughed workers insist Ms. Capito must stick with him.

“We need the wall,” Jessica Lemasters, 29, an accountant on furlough from the Treasury Department, said over lunch at the Corner Cafe, a few blocks from the rally. “I don’t like being furloughed, but it happens.”

Those conflicting sentiments help explain why Senate Republicans like Ms. Capito remain in lock step with Mr. Trump, even as the longest government shutdown ever enters its fourth week and 800,000 federal workers miss their paychecks. The 24th day of the shutdown slipped by with no progress toward a resolution, and while polls show that a majority of Americans blame Mr. Trump and Republicans and do not support a border wall, Republicans are reading a different line in the polling: Support for the wall is growing and hardening among Republican voters.

Eric Engle, a union organizer in Parkersburg, staged a rally of federal workers to send a message to Senator Shelley Moore Capito to end the shutdown, even if it means overriding President Trump.CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

“I am concerned for my people,” said Gregory D. Blaney, an aerospace engineer who runs a NASA facility in Fairmont, W.Va., and is working without pay. But, he added, “I’m willing to endure some impact if it means border security.”

Mr. Trump’s verbal gyrations on the wall and the shutdown have left Senate Republicans bewildered — and twisting wildly themselves. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of the president who is also running for re-election in 2020, has gone from trying to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to advocating a presidential emergency declaration to calling on Mr. Trump to temporarily reopen the government while continuing negotiations on the wall.

On Monday, Mr. Trump bluntly responded to that last one: “I did reject it.”

Early last week, Ms. Capito, a freshman up for re-election next year, seemed to be wavering when she suggested she might be able to “live with” negotiating border security after reopening the government — the Democrats’ position.

But after Mr. Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office and traveled to the border, she walked back those remarks, telling a local television station, “I think President Trump is going to stand strong, and I’m going to stand strong with him.”

So far, only three Senate Republicans — Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have decisively broken with Mr. Trump and called for the government to reopen without a border wall deal. Mr. Gardner and Ms. Collins are up for re-election in Democratic-leaning states; Ms. Murkowski was re-elected in 2016.

Others are expressing their unease with caution. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has put distance, if only a tiny bit, between herself and Mr. Trump by saying that while she strongly supports a wall, it does not need to cover the entire southern border. Senator Martha McSally of Arizona has asked that her pay be withheld until the shutdown is over. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina has called for Republicans to strike a deal that included “long-term security” for the young immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought to the country illegally as children. All will face voters in 2020.

“The question for Republicans up in 2020 is how long can they let this go on,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The more uncomfortable they get, the closer they get to breaking with Trump. But they have to watch the base.”

Here in West Virginia, where Mr. Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton by more than 40 points in 2016, the shutdown’s effects are severe. The federal government employs nearly 3.5 percent of West Virginia workers — a bigger share than in all but six other states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Ms. Capito, a Republican, greeting Mr. Trump at a White House event in October. She has backtracked after seeming to break with Mr. Trump on the shutdown.CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

The state has six federal prisons whose correctional officers are working without pay. Other federal agencies have built big installations here to escape the high cost of office space in the Washington region. The F.B.I. has a major fingerprint center on 986 acres of land in Clarksburg. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA share a sprawling technology park in Fairmont. All have employees working without pay.

Just last month, after Congress approved legislation championed by Ms. Capito, Mr. Trump renamed the NASA facility in honor of one of the women who inspired the Academy Award-nominated film “Hidden Figures.” Now it is mostly shuttered.

But border security is an issue that resonates in West Virginia, in large part because of the state’s opioid epidemic. While Mr. Trump overstated the amount of opioids flowing into the nation through the southern border in his Oval Office speech, many here see the wall as one way to stop the tide.

“We see every day the effects of the opioid epidemic,” said Ms. Lemasters, the furloughed worker, explaining why she is so strongly in favor of the wall.


Donna Hewitt and her brother, Randy Beymer, lamented what Mr. Beymer called the “bunch of freaking kids” in Washington over a late breakfast in Parkersburg.CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Mr. Trump’s language about unauthorized immigrants also resonates strongly here, where whites make up 94 percent of the population. “They come to this country, they are coming from Third World countries,” said Steve Plum, a retired police officer who owns the Corner Cafe with his wife. “They have absolutely nothing to offer.”

As to Ms. Capito, she needs to “stand her ground,” he said.

Ms. Capito, 65, declined requests for an interview. She votes with Mr. Trump 96 percent of the time, according to the website FiveThirtyEight, but her style is anything but Trump-like. She keeps a low profile in Washington and sees government not as an enemy but as an opportunity for West Virginia, whose residents rely heavily on federal support.

“She’s not a bomb thrower. She’s never going to get too far out there on the edge. She’s very careful,” said Hoppy Kercheval, a prominent radio host in West Virginia, who had Ms. Capito on his show last week. “I would not call her a Trump cheerleader. I would call her a supporter of Trump policies.”

Ms. Capito is also chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, and in that role she put together a bill that allocated $ 1.6 billion for border security and fencing.


Darla Uppole, with her daughter, Morell, said it was time for her senator to push President Trump to reopen the government.CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

It gained bipartisan approval in committee and has passed the Democratic-controlled House. But Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, refuses to take it up. So like other spending bills that could reopen the government, Ms. Capito’s measure is now stalled in the Senate.

“I got $ 1.6 billion for the wall with 10 Democrats voting for this,” Ms. Capito told Mr. Kercheval, though the money was not supposed to be spent on a wall. “But I also realize that holding parts of the government that are unrelated to this hostage, with people missing paychecks and things of that nature after a while begins to wear on not just the folks who are most directly affected but everybody.”

Tolerance may be eroding here in Parkersburg, a city of about 30,000 that sits across the border from Ohio.

The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service — which most people call by its old name, the Bureau of the Public Debt — employs about 2,000 people, though not all are affected by the shutdown. Disgust with Washington runs high.

“I think they are acting like a bunch of freaking kids up there,” said Randy Beymer, a retired salesman, over a late breakfast with his sister, Donna Hewitt, who nodded in agreement.

Many are directing their ire at Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Pelosi and Schumer say a wall is immoral; they’ve got a wall around their house,” said Rod Sellers, 70, a truck driver, echoing conservative talking points that are not true.

But Ms. Capito is already beginning to share in the blame. At the Oil and Gas Museum downtown, which chronicles the city’s history as a site for oil and gas exploration, Darla Uppole, who was visiting with her 11-year-old daughter from nearby Williamstown, said Ms. Capito needed to get off the sidelines and push Mr. Trump toward compromise.

“He’s got to be pushed, but she’s got to support him too,” she said. “I do think we need the wall, but this is no way to run government.”

Robert Gebeloff contributed reporting from New York.


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