Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has been relatively quiet since the shutdown began in December, issued a challenge to elected officials to set their egos aside to resolve the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.
“We can continue to hope that our leaders will recognize that this is an easy problem to solve. I mean, just take your ego out of it,” Carson said.
When asked for clarification, a HUD spokesperson said Carson is referring to Congressional leaders, which would include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“They need to send the President an acceptable bill so that important government functions can continue,” the spokesperson said in a written statement to NPR.
Carson’s statements come as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross downplayed the hardships caused by a partial government shutdown and said he was puzzled by reports of federal workers turning to food banks and other relief. He suggested, instead, that workers take out loans to tide them over.
“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest,” said Ross. “But the idea that it’s ‘paycheck or zero’ is not a really valid idea.”
The partial federal shutdown, now into its 34th day, stems from President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to expand the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a tightening of immigration laws.
Democrats have insisted the president reopen the government first, and pay the 800,000 furloughed federal workers who are set to miss their second paycheck Friday, before negotiating a broader immigration deal.
Carson said even with back pay, many federal workers won’t be made “whole.”
“These federal workers, I mean, yes I know we’re going to give them back pay, but that doesn’t take care of the interest if they borrow money,” Carson said.
He said the longer the shutdown goes, the harder it’s going to be on federal employees.
“We really need to think about them, as opposed to some political victory. And it does worry me about the future of our country. If we’re going to do everything based on ideology and hatred, I just don’t see how we are going to be successful as a country,” said Carson.
Approximately 95 percent of HUD employees have been furloughed. Those who have been called back to work without pay are “working around the clock” to make sure Americans who rely on HUD for housing assistance don’t get evicted, according to Carson.
Carson’s comments came at the annual Point-In-Time headcount survey in Washington, D.C. this week. It’s a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night and is typically conducted by jurisdictions in January that receive funding from HUD to combat homelessness.
In the Senate Thursday, as expected, two competing measures failed that would have ended the standoff over border wall funding and reopened the government.