Ogden • During a 20-minute meeting Friday with the Weber County Commission, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney offered few solutions for ending the ongoing government shutdown, placing that responsibility squarely on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump.
He recently joined a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic senators urging those leaders to support a three-week stopgap bill that would fully reopen the federal government pending further discussion on border wall funding, he said.
“And the White House and the speaker’s office came back and said nope,” he said. “It’s between us. Not you guys. It’s between the speaker and the president and you guys just keep your nose out of it.”
“Can’t you guys pass some legislation that changes that?” asked Commissioner Gage Froerer, whose county is one of the hardest hit in Utah by the federal furloughs.
“I’m overstating it, but that’s what I’m hearing from folks,” Romney replied. “I wasn’t there. But we did write a letter. We had 20 senators sign it — 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats. We said, ‘Look, we can work on this. We can work out an agreement together.’ And the answer came back, ‘No, we’re not willing to do that.’”
The Salt Lake Tribune was initially told that the meeting, which included all three commissioners and their staff, was closed to the public and news media. But a Tribune reporter was allowed in after opposing that move under the state’s Open and Public Meetings Act.
At the end of the discussion, Romney expressed displeasure that he hadn’t been informed a reporter was present.
During the sit-down, which the county said Romney had requested, the senator said he “came to listen.” And the commissioners took advantage of that opportunity to impart the human and economic impact of the shutdown on their county, where some 5,000 workers are employed by the federal government.
“There are so many federal workers here,” said Commissioner Jim Harvey. “It affects them within the walls of their home first. But then when they come to work, or they go spend after work, it’s affecting our core, our downtown, all the people that they do business with. How do they pay their rents? I mean, this is a crisis for those people in their homes.”
Across the state, a number of food pantries, entertainment providers, restaurants and other organizations have stepped in to offer free or discounted services to families hit by the shutdown.
In Ogden, businesses that rely on federal workers for customers have been struggling because of the shutdown as well. The Bickering Sisters restaurant across the street from the federal building, for example, put a sign up last week explaining it had cut back its hours because of lost business.
“The federal employees, they’re told they’re going to get a check at the end of this,” Romney acknowledged. “They’re still suffering along the way and [wondering] how they’re going to pay for gas and food and rent, but small businesses don’t get backfilled and their employees don’t.”
There’s seems to be no end in sight for the government shutdown, which is now in its fourth week — the longest in modern U.S. history. Trump has remained steadfast in his demand for $5.7 billion to build a physical structure along the U.S.-Mexico border, while Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have refused to allocate any funding for the wall.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this," Romney said. “I’ve been involved in the business world, where we made deals. And been involved in government, where Republicans and Democrats agreed or didn’t disagree, but we didn’t shut down the government when we disagreed. This is a very unusual thing."
In his comments to the media after the meeting, Romney expressed support for a fence as an immigration solution, citing national security and the humanitarian costs at the southern border. While he said both sides have blame in the shutdown, he said he sees a need for Pelosi to set aside partisan politics and to budge on funding for the wall.
“Speaker Pelosi, you and your fellow Democrats have voted for over 600 miles of border fence in the past; why won’t you vote for another few miles now?" Romney said. "I don’t understand the logic of their position. I really don’t.”
As both sides hold to their positions, Romney told the commissioners he’s heard talk the shutdown may ultimately end with Trump declaring a national emergency to reopen the government — a solution the Utah senator has opposed and which several scholars have said may be dubiously legal sans an overwhelming crisis affecting national security.
Whatever happens, he said, the Senate “will continue putting forth ideas and running them to the White House and running them to the speaker and saying, ‘Can we do this?’ ‘Will you get behind this?’ ‘Will you two move on these things?’ And we’ll keep on pushing that. And there’s always the possibility that you pass something with a vote that the president can’t veto but that’s … in this day and age, that’s unlikely.”
During their statements to the media after the meeting, the Weber commissioners praised Romney’s open dialogue and expressed support for the wall, though not for the way it’s been used to keep the government closed.
“We’re going to tell [our constituents] it was a good meeting, but we can’t tell them it was fruitful," Commissioner Scott Jenkins said. "You know how that goes. We want to believe it is and we do our very best here, but until this logjam is broke in Washington, D.C., there’s not much we can do.”