Federal employee union sues Trump administration over government shutdown

The lights in the Capitol dome glow behind the Peace Monument statue.

J. David Cox, AFGE’s national president, said forcing federal employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane.“ | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

The nation’s largest union representing federal employees filed a lawsuit Monday afternoon against the government, seeking damages for the roughly 400,000 federal employees forced to work without pay during the partial government shutdown.

The two plaintiffs — Justin Tarovisky and Grayson Sharp — work for high-security prisons the Justice Department runs. The American Federation of Government Employees argues that both plaintiffs have dangerous jobs and have been forced to work overtime without pay.

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AFGE represents roughly 700,000 federal employees and has challenged the Trump administration over a number of issues, including major restructuring at the Education Department.

J. David Cox, AFGE’s national president, said forcing federal employees to work without pay “is nothing short of inhumane.“

“Positions that are considered ‘essential’ during a government shutdown are some of the most dangerous jobs in the federal government,“ he said in a statement. “They are front-line public safety positions, including many in law enforcement, among other critical roles. Our intent is to force the government and the administration to make all federal employees whole.”

AFGE said the federal government is still calculating pay it owes to federal workers for the 16-day shutdown in October 2013.

The current shutdown has dragged on for 10 days, hitting the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Commerce, Interior, State, Transportation, Homeland Security, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as agencies like EPA, the FDA and the IRS.

Ted Hesson contributed to this report.

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Trump jabs at Warren: ‘Ask her psychiatrist’ if she can win in 2020

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCharting a roadmap for North Korea Trump claims ‘wall’ around Obamas’ DC home is ‘same thing’ as border wall Graham: Trump ‘open-minded’ to wedding border funding to DACA protections MORE jabbed at Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren changes Twitter account name amid 2020 speculation Wells Fargo to pay 5 million in 50-state settlement over sales practices Warren records video message for benefit concert for Tree of Life synagogue MORE (D-Mass.) in an interview Monday, saying you would have to “ask her psychiatrist” if Warren thinks she can beat him in 2020.

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Trump responded to a question from host Pete Hegseth on Fox News’s “All American New Year” on whether he thinks Warren believes she could win a presidential contest.

“Well, that I don’t know,” Trump said. “You’d have to ask her psychiatrist.”

His comments came hours after Warren announced she was launching an exploratory committee to consider a 2020 bid on Monday.

Trump also took a dig over Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry.

“I think you have more than she does, and maybe I do too, and I have nothing,” Trump said in the interview Monday. “So, we’ll see how she does. I wish her well, I hope she does well, I’d love to run against her.”

Trump has regularly ridiculed Warren as “Pocahontas” and questioned her ancestry.

In October, Warren announced the results of a DNA test that she said showed “strong evidence” of Native American ancestry. The test results did little to stem the attacks from Trump and also opened Warren up to criticism from Native American groups.

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Trump, lawmakers brace for prolonged shutdown

Washington is bracing for a prolonged shutdown that is already in its second week.

The partial shutdown has left a quarter of the government closed, and 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay.

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Power in Congress is about to shift, with Democrats taking the House majority on Thursday. Yet it seems unlikely this will result in an immediate change in the dynamic.

Democrats on Monday announced a new plan for opening the government as soon as on Thursday, but Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall Meadows5 revelations from John Kelly’s Los Angeles Times exit interview Trump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces The Memo: Trump veers between hard-liner, dealmaker on shutdown MORE (R-N.C.), a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCharting a roadmap for North Korea Trump claims ‘wall’ around Obamas’ DC home is ‘same thing’ as border wall Graham: Trump ‘open-minded’ to wedding border funding to DACA protections MORE’s, almost immediately shot it down.

“If the is the best effort at compromise that she can muster then the partial shutdown will continue weeks not days,” Meadows told The Hill.

Democrats were just as tough in their rhetoric, arguing it would be irresponsible for Senate Republicans not to take up their package, which would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 at existing spending levels, effectively punting a decision on Trump’s wall on the Mexican border to that date. 

It would separately fund other parts of the government through the end of the current fiscal year. The Senate previously approved a stopgap bill to fund all of the remaining bills, including DHS, through Feb. 8. 

“If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans refuse to support the first bill, then they are complicit with President Trump in continuing the Trump shutdown and in holding the health and safety of the American people and workers’ paychecks hostage over the wall,” incoming House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiPelosi postpones reception for new Congress amid shutdown Resolving the shutdown gives Democrats great opportunity Conway knocks Pelosi over Hawaii trip: ‘Less hula, more moola’ for DHS MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWhite House, lawmakers signal shutdown will drag on Shutdown is bad for Republicans, an opportunity for Democrats House adjourns without clear path to avert shutdown MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported,” they said, alluding to a bill that passed the Senate in December.

Democrats hope that by separating out the DHS bill, which includes border funding, they will be able to successfully build pressure on Republicans to reopen most of the government. They’re also angling to squeeze Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces No signs of talks as shutdown moves into second week Dem-led House must lead cleanup of Trump-made mess MORE (R-Ky.), an appropriator who has repeatedly warned against shutdowns but has taken a backseat in the current funding feud.

But there’s no sign that McConnell is ready to put daylight between himself and Trump.

“It’s simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the President that he won’t sign,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, when asked about the House plan.

Senate Republicans could take up the House bill and amend it, or try to pass their own legislation, but Stewart declined to speculate.

Instead, he pointed to a recent floor speech from the Senate GOP leader, where he outlined what a successful bill would need to be able to do.

“In order to get us out of this mess, a negotiated solution will need to check these boxes. …It will need the support of 60 Senators — which will obviously include a number of Democrats. It will need to pass the House. And it will need a presidential signature,” McConnell said at the time.

The shutdown politics are politically tricky for the careful GOP leader. Moving the six-bill package would dramatically reduce the effects of the shutdown and let Trump continue to fight it out with Democrats over the border wall. But McConnell is unlikely to open up himself or his caucus to criticism from conservatives and the president on an issue viewed as crucial to the party’s base ahead of the 2020 election.

The back-and-forth comes as negotiators have largely been stalemated since the Dec. 21 funding deadline. The Capitol has transformed into a ghost town with the partial shutdown, coupled with the holiday season, leaving only a handful of lawmakers in Washington.

Both the House and Senate met on Monday for a pro-forma session. Combined, the two chambers were in session for less than five minutes.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyImmigration is pressure point for both sides in shutdown showdown Senate Appropriations Committee chair: Congress looks ‘silly’ amid shutdown Trump’s Fed feud roils markets, alarms Republicans MORE (R-Ala.) warned that the partial shutdown “could last a long, long time” without a jumpstart in the negotiations.

“Right now, we’re at a standoff,” Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation. “[But] nobody wins in a shutdown. We all lose and we kind of look silly.”

The result has been negotiations that are largely in a holding pattern. Trump unleashed a string of tweets against Democrats on Monday, arguing they were using a “ridiculous sound bite” to say that a wall “doesn’t work.”

“It does, and properly built, almost 100%! They say it’s old technology — but so is the wheel. They now say it is immoral — but it is far more immoral for people to be dying!” he said.

In another tweet, Trump implored Democrats to return to Washington, saying that he was “in the Oval Office” and Democrats should “come back from vacation now.”

Trump also publicly urged Democrats over the weekend to “come on over” after he canceled plans to travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. But a spokesman for Pelosi said on Monday that she had yet to hear from Trump and hadn’t received an invitation to come to the White House to discuss the issue with him.

Republicans demanded $5 billion for the border wall, an amount that was backed by a seven-week stopgap bill House Republicans passed days before the shutdown deadline. But they’ve signaled since then that they are willing to accept roughly half of that, $2.5 billion.

Lawmakers and administration officials say they’ve made offers, unsuccessfully so far, to Schumer along those lines, including potentially being willing to go as low as $2.1 billion. But it’s unclear if Trump would sign such a deal and Democrats are making it clear they are not yet ready to back down from their negotiating position.

Schumer and Pelosi blasted Trump on Monday saying he “sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress” and urged him to “come to his senses.”

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Chief justice praises progress on sexual harassment policies for judiciary

Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts last year called for a working group on workplace misconduct in the government’s judicial branch. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The federal judiciary has taken significant steps in the right direction to protect its employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, Chief Justice John Roberts said on Monday in his annual year-end report on the state of the judiciary.

Roberts summarized the findings of a working group on workplace misconduct he called for last year, outlining the next steps in implementing its recommendations to ensure that law clerks and other employees of the judicial branch are guaranteed a safer workplace.

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The working group found that while “the Judiciary compares favorably to other government and private sector workplaces, it did not give the Third Branch a completely clean bill of health,” Roberts wrote in his 15-page report.

“It determined … that inappropriate workplace conduct is not pervasive within the Judiciary, but it also is not limited to a few isolated instances involving law clerks.”

But while the review was not spotless, it did contain bright spots for the judiciary, Roberts wrote, noting the working group’s finding that the judiciary maintains “key foundations for combatting inappropriate conduct.”

The group completed and presented its review of judiciary policies governing workplace misconduct in June, Roberts said on Monday, adding that he endorsed all of the group’s recommendations.

Now, he said, the policymaking body for federal courts is on its way to revising the code in order to implement the group’s proposals, which include expanding the definition of workplace misconduct and streamlining reporting procedures by broadening protections for accusers, ensuring that there are fewer obstacles for reporting misconduct and barring retaliation against victims.

Roberts praised the formation of the Office of Judicial Integrity, which when it begins work sometime next month will be charged with working with circuit courts “to provide a national clearinghouse for monitoring workplace conduct issues” and providing judiciary employees “with an independent source for confidential guidance and counseling.”

And he touted expanded workplace training procedures across the judiciary, including providing information on workplace rights and responsibilities, reporting options, and in-person and continuing-education programs that touch on bystander responsibilities.

The report also praises individual federal courts “from coast to coast” for voluntary introspection and implementation of revised workplace misconduct policies, on which Roberts said the Supreme Court would eventually base its own supplemental policies.

“I am grateful to the judges and other members of the Judicial Branch who have formulated and are implementing these changes, which strengthen our culture of accountability and professionalism,” he said. “We are committed to addressing this challenge throughout our federal court system.”

The chief justice’s continued attention to the issue of sexual harassment follows a delicate time for the highest court in the land, after his newest colleague on the bench, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saw his confirmation process turn into a protracted partisan battle defined by allegations of sexual assault.

Though the accusations against Kavanaugh — which he has vehemently denied — were not made by a coworker, they dredged up memories of a similar contentious confirmation fight: that of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused by a former coworker of making unwelcome and lewd advances.

The report makes no mention of either of Roberts’ colleagues, nor does it mention the man in the White House, even implicitly, despite Roberts’ briefly sparring with President Donald Trump last month over the independence of the judiciary.

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Ocasio-Cortez slams Dems for deeming climate goals ‘too controversial’

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezExiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch Ringing in the new year with bad economic policy Ocasio-Cortez responds to McCaskill: ‘Pretty disappointing’ MORE is ripping her fellow Democrats for failing to take up her proposed special climate change committee called the Green New Deal because it was deemed “too controversial.”

Ocasio-Cortez in a Twitter thread Monday blamed House leadership for rejecting the idea behind the Green New Deal, which aimed to create a plan to get the country on a 100 percent renewable energy electric grid.

“A few weeks ago, I joined youth activists in a specific demand for a Green New Deal Committee. It had 3 simple elements: 1. No fossil fuel money on climate cmte 2. Offer solutions for impacted communities 3. Draft sample All 3 were rejected as “too controversial,” she tweeted.

Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to tweets asking her to name the person who labeled the committee controversial.

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Future House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D’Alesandro PelosiPelosi postpones reception for new Congress amid shutdown Resolving the shutdown gives Democrats great opportunity Conway knocks Pelosi over Hawaii trip: ‘Less hula, more moola’ for DHS MORE (D-Calif.) announced Monday that Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOcasio-Cortez, progressives express disappointment with climate panel Pelosi names Castor chair of Select Committee on Climate Crisis Bloomberg: 2020 candidates ‘better darn well’ have climate plan MORE (D-Fla.) will chair a different special committee on climate change they are calling the Select Committee on Climate Crisis.

The announcement was met with heavy skepticism from progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, who sought a committee that would be made up of members who promised to reject donations from the fossil fuel industry and would work on legislation to help the economy by transitioning the U.S. electric grid to be run on clean energy. 

Castor has previously told reporters that she would not make members on the committee commit to rejecting fossil fuel donations–citing their first amendment rights.

It’s also anticipated that the new committee will lack legislative authority and subpoena power.

 

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The rising progressive star campaigned heavily on tackling climate change once she took office and has championed the Green New Deal–an idea created by The Sunrise Movement, a millennial-run activist group. A week after the midterms Ocasio-Cortez engaged in a sit-in at Pelosi’s office with activists to protest in favor of the Green New Deal’s establishment.

More than 43 Democratic House members have since announced their support for the Green New Deal committee.

While she did “applaud” the creation of the new select committee that will focus on climate change, Ocasio-Cortez argued that the committee will be weak without subpoena power.

“There is still time to strengthen it,” she said. “For all our sake, I hope that we do.” 

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