NEW YORK, N.Y. – What if they shut down the government and no one cared?
On the ground in communities across America, many voters barely noticed the latest spasm of dysfunction in Washington. Those who did were angry and frustrated with their elected leaders but were also growing numb to the near-constant crises that have dominated the Donald Trump-era politics. Few expected last weekend’s 69-hour government shutdown to have any significant impact on the high-stakes midterm elections in November — a political reality that may make another shutdown more likely.
“I saw absolutely nothing in my life that indicated the government had shut down other than the headlines in the paper,” said Florida attorney John Grant, a 74-year-old former Republican state senator. “To me, the government shutdown was a nonevent. The whole thing is a joke.”
For the vast majority of America, there was no noticeable effect as Congress failed to enact a spending bill late Friday, effectively closing the federal government through Monday evening.
Thousands of federal workers were furloughed Monday. NASA tours were cancelled, and the IRS helpline was closed. Overseas troops worried that they wouldn’t be able to watch Sunday’s football games. Despite dire warnings from the White House, there was virtually no impact on the military, border patrol or airport security. There also weren’t any disruptions with Social Security payments or Medicare.
At the same time, the nation grappled with reports that the president’s personal attorney paid a porn star $130,000 to stop her from discussing an affair she said she had with Trump weeks before the 2016 presidential election. And new reports surfaced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been questioned by the special prosecutor investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Nobody is going to remember a three-day shutdown over the weekend because we can’t remember the five major news stories that happened last week,” said Republican strategist Rick Tyler.
Washington, however, spent Tuesday bogged down in intense finger pointing. Shortly before noon, Trump tweeted, “Big win for Republicans as Democrats cave on Shutdown.”
In the short term at least, Democrats did appear to lose the political battle. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer faced heated criticism from frustrated liberals and giddy Republicans who said he caved on Democrats’ wish to protect young immigrants from deportation. Liberal activists scheduled an evening protest outside his Brooklyn home to express their displeasure.
History suggests the shutdown will be soon forgotten, however.
In 2013, Republicans were overwhelmingly blamed for the 16-day shutdown in which conservatives fought unsuccessfully to strip funding from President Barack Obama’s health care law. A year later, Republicans seized the Senate majority.
“Some could argue the 2013 shutdown helped the GOP,” said Republican pollster Chris Wilson. “I don’t see a high probability that a three-day January shutdown will be a dominant factor in November.”
In New Hampshire, former GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn said she was briefly worried about one of her sons, a Marine. But the shutdown ended long before troops’ paychecks were affected.
“If this 2 1/2-day shutdown had any impact, it just reminded the American people how frustrated they are with Washington, D.C.,” Horn said. “Most Americans will not be thinking about the shutdown on Election Day — unless, of course, Feb. 8 comes and we’re back at it again.”
Indeed, the deal struck on Monday to avert the shutdown was very temporary.
Should Congress fail to come up with a new spending plan by Feb. 8, the government would close again. And some fear the lack of broader outrage over the first shutdown of the Trump presidency could make it easier for it to happen again.
“Unless Congress does its job and funds the government, we’re going to be back on the merry-go-round again,” said J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
He said his union had 800,000 to 1 million members furloughed Monday. They will be paid for the lost day of work, Cox said, but many fear the next shutdown is just around the corner.
“Our people are going to remember very clearly about the fact that Congress is not doing its job,” he said.
Outside Washington, many voters responded with a collective shrug of disgust.
Mike Scribner, the president of the 1,000-member Teamsters union local in Topeka, Kansas, called the impasse “just kind of sickening” and said both parties are out of touch with working Americans.
“It’s just a never-ending cycle,” said Scribner, a 48-year-old independent voter. “It’s business as usual for those morons we’ve elected.”
Hispanic voters like Berta Barillas, a 40-year-old high school teacher in Milwaukee, praised Democrats for fighting to protect young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, a group known as “Dreamers.”
“It’s dangerous right now,” she said of the lack of protections for the Dreamers.
Back in Florida, Grant said he was more focused on his weekend travel plans and going to church than the political games on Capitol Hill. The debate over young immigrants, he said, could and should be solved in 30 minutes.
“Frankly, I’m getting sick and tired of a game where it’s all about whether the Republicans or Democrats win,” he said. “Let’s look beyond the politics, and let’s do what’s good for America.”
Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; John Hannah in Topeka, Kansas; Bill Barrow in Atlanta; and Scott Sonner in Las Vegas contributed to this report.