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Amid shutdown, some lawmakers refuse pay in solidarity with federal workers

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By Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — With more than 800,000 federal workers missing their first paychecks on Friday, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they will decline their pay or donate it to charity in solidarity with those affected by the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of dozens of members of Congress who have refused pay since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, according to a NBC News count.

When asked by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson on Wednesday if he would be taking a paycheck during the current shutdown, Van Hollen said he wanted to be treated like any other government worker.

“I have instructed the Senate disbursing office to treat me like any other federal employee — at least the 800,000 who are not getting paid right now. So I will not be getting my pay during this period of government shutdown,” said Van Hollen.

At least fourteen of the lawmakers who are refusing or donating their pay are freshman members of Congress, including Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

He said in a tweet on Thursday that he, too, will forego his $174,000 salary until lawmakers can “come to an agreement to adequately fund border security.”

A number of lawmakers have said they’ll donate their salary to a worthy cause as long as workers remain without the paychecks.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a tweet that all his pay would go to Homes for the Brave, an organization aimed at aiding homeless veterans in Connecticut, while Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., said he would donate his pay to local and national veterans organizations. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is donating to three food banks in her home state, while Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is giving to a National Guard foundation and a North Dakota homeless shelter, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Congress are no closer to ending the stalemate over the funding he has demanded for his border wall. He has opposed legislation passed by the Democratic-held House to reopen the government temporarily, and the Senate’s Republican leadership has refused to consider any government funding legislation the president won’t sign.

However, Trump said that he would sign the legislation passed by Congress guaranteeing back pay to federal workers affected by the partial shutdown, which will set a record for the longest in American history early Saturday morning. The House passed the measure on Friday with overwhelming bipartisan support, 411 to 7, after it passed the Senate by unanimously by voice vote.

While several members of Congress have committed to refusing their pay until funding for nine essential government departments, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, is restored, the vast majority are continuing to draw their salaries.

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., said he donated his entire paycheck during a past shutdown. But when asked by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson on Friday if he would do the same during the current shutdown, the congressman said it wouldn’t make a difference.

“Even if I do again what I did before, it’s not going to end the shutdown. The president can end the shutdown,” said Heck.

When asked if she would be taking a paycheck, Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said on MSNBC on Tuesday, “I am, I’m working.”

Sen. John Thune’s office told NBC News on Friday that the majority whip would be accepting his paycheck, regardless of the ongoing shutdown. Other top Senate leadership — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. — did not respond to requests for comment.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he will not be accepting pay during the partial government shutdown, while other House leaders — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. — did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Senate leaders make $193,400 annually, compared to the average federal worker salary of $51,340 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 800,000 workers who are affected by this partial shutdown, roughly half are furloughed, or forbidden from working, while the rest were working with no guarantee of pay.

Darryl Floyd, a furloughed worker for the International Trade Commission, told NBC News on Friday that he is battling dual concerns: missing paychecks while paying for his wife’s cancer treatment.

“We kind of worry about the bills getting paid, if she’s going to be able to buy medicine or whatever it may be, will we be able to eat. So, it’s kind of stressful,” said Floyd.

Frank Thorp V and Alex Moe contributed.

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