U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, didn’t mince words Tuesday morning during an Algonquin town hall on the partial federal government shutdown.
The freshman congressman blamed President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for the controversial shutdown.
“This is not about border security; this is not about partisanship. This is about two men,” Casten told the dozens of attendees who packed the Ganek Municipal Center. “We are suffering because people are breaking norms. ... There’s a lot of power in the Senate because one person can block [a vote].”
Lawmakers are struggling to find a way out of the shutdown.
Trump is demanding $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that he said is needed on humanitarian and security grounds. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is refusing money for the wall that she believes is ineffective and immoral, and Democrats maintain that they will discuss border security once the government has reopened.
The hour-and-a-half town hall at times turned into a shouting match between those in favor of the wall and in support of Trump and those distrustful of or angry with the president.
“Trump is like a little kid in a sandbox,” said Jim Sances of Algonquin. “He takes away stuff [and] causes a big problem, like [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals].”
Theresa Fronczak of Crystal Lake shared her support for Trump and the wall throughout the event, “for the safety of the American people.”
An estimated 460,000 employees are working without pay, including those in the FBI, Transportation Security Administration and other federal law enforcement offices. About 340,000 workers also have been furloughed.
Some federal contractors have discontinued their services, leaving thousands of employees temporarily without work and without a paycheck.
The shutdown marked its 32nd day Tuesday, making it at least 11 days longer than the previous record. Friday will mark the second time federal workers go unpaid this month.
Even though the Democrat-controlled House passed legislation earlier this month to reopen portions of the government without funding for the wall, McConnell has maintained that he would not put anything up for a vote in the Senate that the president wouldn’t sign.
Casten said that if McConnell put the Democratic legislation to reopen the government up for a vote in the Senate, it would pass.
Over the weekend, Trump announced his proposal to reopen the government with wall funding, as well as immigration provisions Democrats denounced as inadequate. Although it’s headed for Senate action, its prospects are uncertain.
“Our founders saw fit to separate the powers of the purse from the executive branch with checks and balances. Had we done that, the government could spend money on whatever it wants with no limitation and recourse,” Casten said, adding that Trump has acted “deeply amoral.”
“What the founders didn’t contemplate was an era when we would have elected officials so willing to break norms. ... No one man should have the power to hold the entire country hostage. That’s where we are right now.”
Casten, a biochemist and entrepreneur, said Trump’s plan for a wall is too vague and would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“Let’s call this wall what it is. It is racism,” he said. “It is not solving the border security problem that we have. It’s a promise that the president made that he would get Mexico to pay for it.”
Liz Pelloso, a Chicago wetland scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, spoke about her struggle with the shutdown. She said her husband unexpectedly lost his job last month, and she is not being paid during the shutdown.
Pelloso said her family is struggling to pay bills and buy groceries.
“I’m not one to ask for help, and I have friends who know I’m struggling, and they set up a meal train, so we’re lucky enough to get meals delivered to us just like when I had a baby. It’s very humbling,” Pelloso said, wiping away tears.
“My own government, we pay taxes, too. These are services we’re all paying for, and they’re failing us every day that this goes on.”