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By Dartunorro Clark and Tammy Leitner

Federal workers woke up to a harsh reality on Friday when they did not receive their expected paychecks for the first time as the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day.

An estimated 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay, throwing everything from airport security to environmental protection to federal resources for low-income housing into jeopardy.

The last government shutdown to have lasted this long was the impasse that stretched from December 1995 to January 1996, when President Bill Clinton and the GOP-controlled Congress were at loggerheads. As of Friday afternoon, with the shutdown poised to become the longest in U.S. history, President Donald Trump and Congress appeared no closer to a deal to reopen the government.

Trump on Friday continued to lambaste Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for standing firm in their refusal to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border,” the president said on Twitter a day after traveling to Texas to bolster his argument for the wall. “I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion!”

“The Steel Barrier, or Wall, should have been built by previous administrations long ago. They never got it done – I will. Without it, our Country cannot be safe. Criminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs & so much other big trouble can easily pour in. It can be stopped cold!”

With negotiations at a standstill, Trump has threatened to keep key agencies shuttered for months or even a year if Democrats don’t agree to allocate billions for his border wall. The president has even signaled that he would declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and siphon billions from the federal government to build the wall.

On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House passed two bills to provide relief to workers and reopen some essential federal agencies. One bill to reopen the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other related agencies passed 240 to 179, with 10 Republicans voting with Democrats. The other bill, which guarantees back pay to federal workers, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 411 to 7. Seven Republicans voted against that measure.

Currently, some government agencies are relying on temporary funds to keep some operations going, but experts have warned that the situation could get grimmer if it drags on.

For many workers going without pay, it’s already dire.

William Villegas and Michelle Seeley, a couple that works as contract employees for the Kennedy Space Center and members of the Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told NBC News on Friday that the uncertainty has caused considerable worry in their household, especially since they have two children.

“I’m severely disappointed in the government, all of them, and I vote in every election,” Seeley said. “And as a member of the union, I’ve taken part in rallying other people to vote because I think it’s an important part of the democratic process, so the whole thing is disappointing to me because I feel like nothing is working the way it’s supposed to work in the government.”

Since both are contract employees, they are not guaranteed back pay if the government reopens. The couple said they have savings that they haven’t dipped into yet, but health care expenses are a concern.

“Well, we have two small children, so the medical issue is constant,” Seeley said. “You never know when they’re gonna get sick, or need something.”

Villegas said the shutdown “didn’t have to happen” and pinned some of the blame on Trump, alluding to separate instances in which either the House or the Senate passed bills that would have created a path to ending the stalemate.

U.S. Internal Revenue Services employees rally in front of the Federal Building against the ongoing U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah on Jan. 10, 2019.George Frey / Reuters

LeRoy and Judy Smith also had harsh words for Washington. LeRoy, also a member of the the Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is an electrician at the space center. The couple said they live paycheck to paycheck, and that Judy has a condition that causes seizures, requiring her to rely on expensive prescription medication.

“He doesn’t like having to say that he can’t do a thing, especially when it’s for me,” Judy said. “He doesn’t like to say he can’t get my medicine for me.”

Since the shutdown, LeRoy said he has been considering temporary work to keep “his head above water.”

“It’s childish to shut down the government just because you can’t come to an agreement,” LeRoy said.

“It’s like we’re being held hostage,” Judy added.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the government shutdown has suspended federal cleanups at Superfund sites around the nation and forced the cancellation of public hearings. As a result, a mostly African-American community in Alabama, for instance, has been forced to cope with high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in the soil around homes.

Low-income senior citizens in Jacksonville, Florida, have also been left to fend for themselves because the shutdown froze funds the Department of Housing and Urban Development used for low-income housing.

And more grim scenarios could happen if the shutdown continues to drag on, including 38 million low-income Americans losing access to food stamps, 2 million losing access to rental assistance and facing possible eviction and the federal court system almost screeching to a halt.



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Brexit news: Will Queen be forced to SUSPEND Parliament?

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HARD Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested Theresa May could prevent an extension to Article 50 and a delay to Brexit by shutting down Parliament early.

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Hakeem Jeffries defends calling Trump ‘Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’

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Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

By Allan Smith

New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is standing by remarks he made Monday in which he called President Donald Trump “the Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In an interview Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day,” the House Democratic Caucus chairman said he had no regrets about the comment, which he made at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in New York City.

“We’ve got to have an opportunity for at least one day a year to have a candid if sometimes uncomfortable conversation about race,” Jeffries told CNN. “It seems to me that we can’t have that conversation on Valentine’s Day, we can’t have that conversation on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s perhaps appropriate for us to be able to have that difficult discussion on MLK Day, when we’re celebrating the life and legacy of a champion for racial and social justice.”

Monday was not the first time Jeffries labeled Trump as such. But he told CNN that he “absolutely” does not think Trump is a Ku Klux Klan member. “Grand Wizard” is the title that was given to leaders of the white supremacist group.

“I did not use the words racist in any of my comments,” Jeffries said. “In fact, Wolf Blitzer in the past has asked me whether I believe the president is a racist, and I’ve consistently said no. I did use a colorful phrase, but of course I don’t believe that the president is a card-carrying member of the KKK. But it did capture a troubling pattern of racially insensitive and outrageous, at times, behavior that spans not months, not years, but decades.”

As examples, Jeffries cited a Justice Department lawsuit against the Trumps in the 1970s for alleged housing discrimination, the president’s remarks about the so-called Central Park Five, Trump’s promotion of the false conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and the president’s handling of the fatal violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

Jeffries wasn’t the only Democratic leader to attack Trump’s racial record over the Monday holiday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in South Carolina: “It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist.”

In response, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted that Sanders’ remark was “disgusting and wrong.”

@realDonaldTrump has brought African American and Hispanic unemployment to record lows, passed historic criminal justice reform. Even worse that Bernie is using MLK Day to make an incendiary comment like that,” McDaniel wrote.



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Brexit latest: 'Mayhem' as Remainer MPs plot to halt UK leaving the EU

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