The federal government was closed Monday, and while most people in Galveston County didn’t feel the effects, the shutdown disrupted everything from research to training classes at NASA.
After Republicans and Democrats in Congress failed to reach a compromise on federal spending and immigration issues over the weekend, many federal employees got an extra day off.
At the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, researchers at the Galveston National Laboratory were not able to send or receive shipments of viruses that are at the center of their work. A federal agency is required to permit such shipments.
A phone message at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Galveston Laboratory — where dozens of cold-stunned turtles have recently been treated — announced the facility was closed until the shutdown was over.
At NASA’s Johnson Space Center, just over the Galveston County line, employees tried to do as much work as possible before an official furlough notice came, said Sandra Tetley, a historic preservation officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Some essential personnel and contract workers would remain at work despite the shutdown, but all other employees were dealing with uncertainty, Tetley said.
“I’m very frustrated and irritated,” Tetley said. “I believe in standing up for what you believe in, but in this case, the political games they are playing is hurting people. I had a training class that had been scheduled for months canceled.”
Monday was the third government shutdown Tetley had endured as a NASA employee and each one is difficult, she said.
Essential government employees — including NASA mission control technicians, U.S. Coast Guard watch standers and National Weather Service forecasters — continue to work through the furlough, with a promise to be paid for the work they did during the shutdown.
At about noon Monday, Senate Democrats dropped their objections to a temporary funding bill in return for assurances from Republicans leaders that they would soon take up immigration and other contentious issues.
President Donald Trump signed the bill reopening the government late Monday, ending the 69-hour display of partisan dysfunction.
The measure set the stage for hundreds of thousands of federal workers to return today, cutting short what could have become a messy and costly impasse. The House approved the measure shortly thereafter, and President Donald Trump later signed it behind closed doors at the White House.
But by relenting, the Democrats prompted a backlash from immigration activists and liberal base supporters who wanted them to fight longer and harder for legislation to protect from deportation the 700,000 or so younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally.
Democrats climbed onboard after two days of negotiations that ended with new assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate would consider immigration proposals in the coming weeks. But there were deep divides in the Democratic Caucus over strategy, as red-state lawmakers fighting for their survival broke with progressives looking to satisfy liberals’ and immigrants’ demands.
Under the agreement, Democrats provided enough votes to pass the stopgap spending measure keeping the government open until Feb. 8. In return, McConnell agreed to resume negotiations over the future of the dreamers, border security, military spending and other budget debates. If those talks don’t yield a deal in the next three weeks, the Republican promised to allow the Senate to debate an immigration proposal — even if it’s one crafted by a bipartisan group and does not have the backing of the leadership and the White House, lawmakers said. McConnell had previously said he would bring a deal to a vote only if Trump supported it.
Sixty votes were needed to end the Democrats’ filibuster, and the party’s senators provided 33 of the 81 the measure got. Eighteen senators, including members of both parties, were opposed. Hours later the Senate passed the final bill by the same 81-18 vote, sending it to the House, which quickly voted its approval and sent the measure on to President Donald Trump.
The plan is far from what many activists and Democrats hoped when they decided to use the budget deadline as leverage. It doesn’t tie the immigration vote to another piece of legislation, a tactic often used to build momentum. It also doesn’t address support for an immigration plan in the House, where opposition to extending the protections for the dreamers is far stronger.
The short-term spending measure means both sides may wind up in a shutdown stalemate again in three weeks.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer lent his backing to the agreement during a speech on the chamber’s floor. “Now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate,” he said of legislation to halt any deportation efforts aimed at the younger immigrants.
The White House downplayed McConnell’s commitment, and said Democrats caved under pressure. “They blinked,” principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told CNN. In a statement, Trump said he’s open to immigration deal only if it is “good for our country.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.