Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. for the annual MLK Day luncheon in Lansing, but for several Democratic lawmakers in town from Washington, the 31-day shutdown cast a shadow over the festivities.
US Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan gave remarks to open the day along with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Mayors of Lansing and East Lansing, as well as U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (MI-08).
Stabenow called upon King’s famous words, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
She implored the crowd at Lansing Center to act.
“We can bend that arc by standing up to the bullies around us and stating clearly and unequivocally that racism and bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated."
Then, she pivoted to the shutdown saying, “And at this moment I need to be clear, we need to be clear—that using the wages of government workers as bargaining chips in a political fight is wrong.”
It has been over a month since 800,000 federal workers have seen a paycheck, and some are still required to work. If the government remains partially shut down on Friday furloughed federal workers will miss their second paycheck.
President Donald Trump addressed the nation on Saturday where he revealed a new proposal aimed at luring congressional Democrats to the table. His plan involved offering protections to certain groups of immigrants by extending the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) program, as well as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for three years.
Democratic leadership swiftly rejected the newest legislative bid by the President before his address on Saturday, saying that it was a “non-starter” so long as the government remained shut down.
Michigan Democrats held that line back in their districts over the Martin Luther King holiday.
Sen. Peters spoke about the shutdown over the weekend on Twitter.
Fixing our long-broken immigration system and securing our borders are issues that deserve serious solutions, they should not be conditions of keeping the federal government's lights on.
— Senator Gary Peters (@SenGaryPeters) January 19, 2019
“This proposal was rejected even before it was offered, but you know we shouldn’t be having this debate about what we do to deal with border security while the government is closed," said Peters. "It is simply unacceptable to hold the American people, and federal workers and businesses across this country hostage to this debate.”
Rep. Slotkin agreed with Peters citing her own experience as a federal employee.
“I was a federal worker for 14 years," said Slotkin. "Using them as leverage, to me, is kind of an original problem. If it were up to me we wouldn’t be able to ever do this—shutting down our government because of two parties arguing.”
The government has not been open since she was inaugurated to the 116th Congress on January 3 with Congress and President Donald Trump deadlocked over a border wall.
However, Slotkin said she was encouraged by the President’s Saturday proposition which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to introduce in the Senate this week.
“What’s happened in the past couple of days kind of opens the gate a little bit to have a real conversation. I think we’re going to start to see some movement in the Senate,” said Slotkin. “I think there is a distinct possibility to open the government and very quickly afterward announce a good deal. But, I think to say ‘we need the deal first and then we’ll open the government’ doesn’t really explain what’s going to happen the next time we have a problem.”
Slotkin has been speaking out against the shutdown in Washington as well, announcing her co-sponsorship of the Shutdown Relief Act with a group of bipartisan freshman lawmakers.
The proposed legislation would allow federal workers to withdraw the amount of money they’ve missed throughout the course of the shutdown from temporary savings plans without penalty, as long as the amount is returned in 180 days after the shutdown ends.
Peters, who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also re-emphasized both Democratic and Republican willingness to address border security in many forms.
But, he called the ongoing government shutdown, a result of partisan gridlock over the President’s request for $5.7 billion to fund a southern border wall, “unacceptable.”
“I would hope the President would simply listen to the American people and do the right thing. That’s what we’re celebrating here, Dr. Martin Luther King, who would stand up and do the right thing. It’s time for the President to learn a lesson from Martin Luther King,” said Peters.
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