Faculty and students weigh in on the 35-day government shutdown

By JAMES SCHARF and ISHA RAI | February 7, 2019

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AGNOSTICPREACHERSKID / CC-BY-SA-3.0 The News-Letter explored how Hopkins community members have been affected by the government shutdown.

The United States government shut down from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019. At 35 days, the shutdown was the longest in U.S. history and was the result of a standoff between President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The conflict began because of Trump’s demand that Congress include a $5.7 billion budget for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in government funding legislation. Non-essential employees were furloughed, while all others were expected to work without pay.

The New York Times reported that the shutdown culminated in a short-term spending bill to fund the government for three weeks. 

According to The Baltimore Sun, 4,109 Marylanders were seeking shutdown-related unemployment benefits the day before the government reopened. Because Maryland was so heavily impacted, The News-Letter spoke with professors and students about personal and national effects of the 35-day shutdown. 

Lecturer and Director of the Center for Financial Economics Robert Barbera believes that the shutdown was extremely harmful for federal workers. However, he doubts that it will impact the U.S. economy in the long run.

“It’s just not a big macroeconomic event, but it’s devastating for the individuals involved,” Barbera said. “It’s extraordinarily difficult for people who live paycheck to paycheck.”

Adam Sheingate, chair of the Political Science department and a specialist in American politics, believes that Trump ended the shutdown after losing his party’s support.

“It’s sort of like a game of chicken, of who blinks first or who moves first, and I think that’s a high-risk game,” Sheingate said. “In this round, what happened is that the president didn’t have the support he thought within his own party, and once it became clear that he didn’t have the support of his own party, then he had to agree to reopen the government.”

Sheingate noted that there may be better solutions to border security than a wall; however, he also stated that individual’s opinions on the wall or the shutdown are likely heavily shaped by their partisan affiliation. 

“We live in a very polarized political environment and people’s position on the question of the wall or on the question of the shutdown are very much filtered through their partisan lens,” he said.

Most Hopkins students responded negatively to the shutdown. Like Sheingate, several questioned the need for a border wall, as well as the need for a shutdown to accomplish President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Aaron Pultman, the former president of College Democrats at Hopkins, characterized Trump’s behavior during the shutdown as childish and economically problematic.

“It’s almost childish in the sense that President Trump effected this ludicrous waste of money that most Americans aren’t really looking for,” Pultman said. “When he doesn’t get his way with a Congress that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with him, he throws the government equivalent of a fit in shutting down the government for the longest it’s ever been. I’m happy that it came to a close.”

Barbera also believes that shutting down the government was a poor strategy. 

“Nobody who is serious thinks that it was a smart move by Trump,” Barbera said.

Mikhael Hammer-Bleich, the current president of College Democrats at Hopkins, agreed that the shutdown was damaging, further noting that it could have damaged America’s reputation.

“Theoretically it does kind of harm the strength and the prestige of the American government to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re throwing up our hands and can’t do anything,’” Hammer-Bleich said. “It would just create a lot more stability if they wouldn’t have any shutdowns like this.”

Sheingate believes that another shutdown could happen. He stressed that negotiations most likely will not begin until close to the Feb. 15 deadline. 

“It’s very likely that negotiations won’t get very serious until we reach the very end of this three week period which is coming up quickly,” he said. “It is possible that we’ll have another shutdown.”

However, Sheingate also feels that the Democrats have more leverage in the upcoming negotiations. 

“[Democrats] know that there’s this lack of support for the most extreme position,” Sheingate said. “They have to make an affirmative kind of move about what they would support. I’ve also been surprised that they haven’t asked for more specific gains on issues that their constituents are supportive of. It’s surprising to me that they didn’t push for a clear and stronger DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], for example.” 

Barbera explained that it is very difficult to predict Trump’s actions. Personally, he feels another shutdown is unlikely and that President Trump will not declare a national emergency over border security. 

“I doubt that [Trump] would shut the government down again,” Barbera said. “If he does declare a national emergency, that puts Republicans in an enormously difficult spot, especially in the Senate. And that’s because you will have established a precedent. If they vote to support it, think of all the things that a Democrat could label an emergency.”

Previously Trump has said that he could declare a national emergency at the border, which would allow him to build the wall without congressional approval. 

Hammer-Bleich said that Hopkins Democrats would have held a rally to protest the shutdown had it continued any further. In the event of another shutdown, the group is prepared to make the rally happen.

“If there were to be another government shutdown due to the wall, especially if it’s just three weeks later — because I think there is a possibility that happens — we would really try to have a rally and to show the strength of the student body,” Hammer-Bleich said. “To both show the student body and let the student body show its strength against the border wall.”

Sophomore Sofia Ruiz previously interned at the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), a nonprofit think tank. She expressed concern about the quality of work that federal employees — such as those at the State Department — might have done under the shutdown. In her opinion, the shutdown negatively impacted the government’s efficiency.

“It certainly slowed down operations for a lot of different agencies,” she said. “All the reports point to one thing: A lot of people didn’t want to go to work if they weren’t going to get paid. And many of those who did go to work had to find a, kind of, side-hustle to get by.”

Sophomore Sam Mollin, a Political Science major, opposed the shutdown. He expressed alarm over the consequences of requiring federal employees to work without pay. In particular, he worried about the stress that a shutdown would put on aviation employees.

“It never should have happened in the first place,” Mollin said. “If you look at specific agencies, like Air Traffic Controllers and the TSA [Transportation Security Administration], when you defund those agencies it puts the American people at risk. Flights become more dangerous and air traffic controllers become more stressed out if they don’t get paid. It creates a bigger risk of accidents. That’s a problem. The safety of Americans shouldn’t be put at risk for such a long time, especially for something that the American people didn’t want in the first place.”

Mollin also claimed that most Americans did not support the wall.

“The government was shut down over a horrible reason that no Americans actually supported,” he said. 

Mollin, whose mother works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says that the shutdown harmed staff morale.

“In general, the lack of morale and being forced to stay at home for 35 days because you’re furloughed and can’t go to work, demoralizes federal workers,” Mollin said. “It makes them less likely to do their job. It makes them less likely to work for the government.”

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