Indianapolis Star


More than 30 days into a record-breaking government shutdown — and with no end in sight — Indiana’s Republican members of Congress remain firm in their support of President Donald Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for a southern border wall.

Last week, Republican Senators Mike Braun and Todd Young chastised Democrats for what they see as an unwillingness to compromise in order to end the shutdown. But the two senators are also uninterested in any proposal that doesn’t provide money for the border wall.

Senator Mike Braun, R-Indiana, on the radio live during early morning radio calls speaking to WOWO South Bend and also with Indianapolis WIBC's Tony Katz from the Senate Recording Studios with Braun's chief of staff Josh Kelley listening on headphones while Zach Riddle, Braun's deputy communication director records the conversation. (Photo credit: Jack Gruber/USAT) “We all want this to end as soon as possible,” Young said. “The people of Indiana want this to end as soon as possible, and they want to make sure that we ensure their safety and security, we deal with the humanitarian crisis and we fund our government.

“It’s not unreasonable for this Republican Congress working with this president to insist on those fundamental principles.”

Young declined to say whether there is a certain point when Republicans and Trump should give in on their border wall request in order to simply reopen the government.

On a call with a constituent who was not being paid due to the partial shutdown, Braun said he didn’t know how the shutdown would get resolved in the next few days. He also emphasized that he personally can’t do much about the situation.

In general, lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t optimistic about a swift ending to the shutdown, which was in its 32nd day Tuesday — and has long eclipsed the previous record 21-day shutdown in 1995-96.

“I really think the pressure is going to build to where here within a few weeks, and hopefully sooner, but I just really don’t know (when the government will reopen). That’s just giving you an honest answer,” Braun told the federal worker.

The blames lies on the leaders, he told the constituent.

On the House side, Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been unwilling to budge to allow any money for the border wall. Meanwhile, Senate leader Mitch McConnell has not called any legislation for a vote, because of Trump’s threats of a veto.

And last week Trump seemed reluctant to even talk to Democratic leadership anymore. He’s emphasized he won’t sign any spending bill that doesn’t include funding for a border wall.

The feeling of a stalemate shifted slightly this past weekend when Trump released his latest proposal: provide temporary protection for those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs in exchange for border wall funding. Pelosi quickly shot down the idea.

McConnell plans to bring the proposal to the floor this week, but it still doesn’t have the support of Democrats.

Meanwhile, later this week 800,000 federal employees will go without their second paychecks since the shutdown began, and members of Congress are feeling the pressure. After all, no one campaigns on shutting down the government, Republican Rep. Jim Banks pointed out.

But he called the border wall a “worthy issue to prioritize in the spending deal.”

“I blame Pelosi for not being flexible, for not being willing to negotiate,” said Banks, who represents Fort Wayne.  “I believe the president has been willing to negotiate in good faith and compromise on some core issues, but really take the president out of it and neither the House or the Senate have passed a bill to his desk and until they do, the American people should be pointing their fingers at Congress for the shutdown, not the president.”

Democrats, such as Rep. André Carson, who represents most of Marion County, don’t see it that way.

“The debate over border security is important and should be a part of our consideration of comprehensive immigration reform,” Carson said in a statement two weeks ago. “But we cannot allow the President to hold hostage countless programs that Americans rely on. It violates our oath of office, hurts countless hard working families, and puts our economy and national security at risk.”

Nationally, more than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s approach to negotiations while 53 percent disapprove of how Democratic leadership has handled negotiations, according to a survey released last week from Pew Research Center. 

Hoosiers, however, have largely supported Trump’s calls to build a wall. So much so that even Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly campaigned on his own support for Trump’s wall, somewhat alienating part of his base.

Indiana also has far fewer federal employees compared to places such as California and the District of Columbia. According to Governing Magazine, 31 states have more unpaid federal workers than Indiana has.

WalletHub ranked Indiana in the bottom five states affected by the government shutdown, based on number of federal employees, federal contracts, number of food stamp recipients and other measures.

Indiana’s delegates on Capitol Hill have received hundreds of calls from constituents on both sides of the debate. Since late December, for example, Republican Rep. Susan Brooks, who represents the north side of Indianapolis as well as Hamilton County, said she has received 600-700 calls — split fairly evenly on whether Republicans should proceed without wall funding.

Newly-elected Republican Rep. Jim Baird, whose district included Hendricks and Boone counties, said most of his voters want to make sure the border is secured.

“Predominantly the responses that we’re having in this office from constituents back home — and that’s extremely important to us — I think they want to get this resolved and support the president with the wall,” Baird said.  “I go back to that limited amount of money that it’s going to cost to do it and so I think it’s relatively easy. It just takes people coming to the table and agreeing to solve the issue.”

Brooks questioned why Trump would “negotiate against himself” when Pelosi hasn’t presented Trump with another option. She said she’s willing to compromise, even if it means potentially less money than the full $5.7 million that Trump has requested.

But some level of funding is needed, she said. She mirrored Trump’s language regarding the “crisis” on the southern border.

“We don’t have the resources and the space and the capacity to handle this massive influx of families and of … unaccompanied childrenwhich are massive, and that’s what is making this different and why we’ve got to fix this now, not keep kicking it down the road, which we’ve done since I’ve been here,” Brooks said. “This is truly the humanitarian crisis and it’s horrific that we’ve got this many children coming to the border and that’s why this is different for me.”

While Republicans and Democrats disagree on who is to blame, there’s one thing they all share: a sense of frustration.