Janine Smullen was the first person to pitch a question at Rep. Tom Emmer, pushing the Republican to answer for the government shutdown that has forced her husband to work without pay.
“What is the point?” Smullen, of Big Lake, asked. She said her family and others are suffering as politicians fight over border security.
Frustrations quickly flared over immigration policy and the monthlong government shutdown at Emmer’s town hall Tuesday in Ramsey. The representative from Delano was one of several members of the state’s Congressional delegation who were in Minnesota on Tuesday hearing from residents and trying to assign responsibility for the federal shutdown.
Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, heard from University of Minnesota student services staff and researchers about how the shutdown is affecting them. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar stood with a half-dozen federal workers and labor leaders at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and called on President Donald Trump to “end your temper tantrum” and reopen the government before any further debate on border security.
Rep. Collin Peterson struck a very different tone from his fellow Democrats during a talk show on KFGO radio station in Fargo-Moorhead.
“Give Trump the money … I’d give him the whole thing that he wants and put strings on it so that you make sure that he puts the wall where it needs to be,” said Peterson, who represents most of western Minnesota.
There are places where a wall is needed, Peterson said on the radio, but added that putting money toward securing ports of entry is more important.
In a statement issued later Tuesday, Peterson said he and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, are working to gather co-signers on a bipartisan letter to the president and Congressional leadership that asks them to reopen the government and secure the border.
Emmer fielded questions from a mix of supporters and opponents at his town hall, but the majority of attendees vocally opposed President Donald Trump and his plan for a border wall. Several booed and talked over Emmer, who is the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. His district includes northern and western suburban and exurban communities, as well as St. Cloud.
Emmer told the dozens of attendees from across his district that he would like to discuss broad immigration solutions over the next week, including the program for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, instead of just focusing on a wall at the southern border.
“Hopefully this is an issue that can be a much bigger fix, right? For the deferred-action kids, for our immigration system in general. Hopefully that’s where we’re going to get with all three sides,” he said.
Smullen said she wanted to attend the meeting because her husband, a chief inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration, and others could not. He is one of 800,000 federal employees who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay during the partial shutdown.
They have had to cut back, Smullen said, and that has broader impacts on the local economy.
“We used to go out to dinner once a week, and we’re not going out to dinner,” she said, and the shutdown is adding stress. “We have savings. A lot of these guys don’t. What do we do when the savings run out?”
Darrell Maus, a retired letter carrier union leader from Andover, was one of many people who said they were upset government leaders let federal employees get caught up in negotiations.
“Somebody who wants his way shut down the government, put a bunch of employees out there with no money, no job, and just let them be out there, be hostage,” Maus said.
But Carol Polzin, also of Big Lake, said she is worried about human trafficking and people bringing heroin and diseases through the southern border. She said she is thankful Emmer and Trump are working to protect people.
At Omar’s airport event, Neal Gosman, treasurer of the local transportation security officers union, said a food shelf has been organized inside the airport’s Terminal 2 and urged the public to contribute to their local food banks to support federal employees who are struggling. Gosman, who has worked at the airport for 15 years, said it is not right that federal employees doing their job have to resort to using food shelves.
The public events come days after Trump said he would continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which protects young undocumented immigrants, as well as the temporary protected status program for those unable to safely return to their home country. In exchange, Trump wants $5.7 billion to build a border wall.
“The president thinks he can use DACA recipients, whose status is only threatened because of him, as pawns in his quest to build a xenophobic and racist wall that is designed to keep immigrants out of this country,” Omar said. “He thinks he can hold the salaries of hundreds of thousands of federal workers hostage to build this symbol of hate. We here say, ‘No way.’ ”
While Omar laid blame for the stalemate at Trump’s door, Emmer focused on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats like Omar. He said Pelosi is under pressure from new House members whom he described as strident opponents of the president’s border security plan.
“They have said no, never, no way. She’s got to figure out now how to maneuver through that,” Emmer said.
He noted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Democrats have previously supported $1.6 billion for border security.
“There is movement and they’re trying to get people to the table,” Emmer said.
His town hall was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening, but he said he had to shift it to the morning.
“We have been summoned back to Washington, I hope so that we can get something done this week,” Emmer said.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report. Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044