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Reaction to Trump speech: 2020 Democrats focus on federal workers

Trump talked about “wealthy politicians” building fences around their homes. 2020 Democrats focused on federal workers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gives a speech in Burlington, Vermont, in 2018.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

President Donald Trump had one particular line in his Tuesday night border security address that will likely become fodder for Democratic attack ads in 2020.

“Some have suggested a barrier is immoral,” Trump said. “Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside.”

While Trump was touting the example of “wealthy politicians” building walls around their homes to make a case for his own wall along the southern border with Mexico, a slate of likely 2020 Democrats slammed him for harming working people — specifically, 800,000 federal employees going without paychecks as a government shutdown over the border wall enters its third week.

The message of 2020 Democrats is clear: The president is actively hurting America’s federal workers with his self-made crisis. Not only did 2020 Democrats focus on federal employees who are currently going without pay, they also spoke of their concern about needy Americans who could be without food assistance, federal housing, or other important programs if the shutdown drags on.

Democrats are siding with working people — in this case, federal workers

Only one possible presidential contender — Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — delivered his own televised address broadcast over social media. But much of the rest of the big names in the likely Democratic field (many of them Sanders’s fellow senators) hammered Trump over Twitter for the continued shutdown.

“Our federal employees deserve to be treated with respect, not held hostage as political pawns,” Sanders said during his address. “As working people, many of them are wondering how they will pay their mortgages, how they will feed their kids, and how they’ll be able to go to the doctor.”

Sanders called on Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take quick action to open up the government, echoed by many of his colleagues said to also be eyeing presidential bids.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) both referenced the thousands of federal workers and their families who are going without their first paychecks this week.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the only senator so far who has officially announced an exploratory committee for a presidential run, reminded her followers that Trump refusing to pay workers at federal law enforcement agencies including the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and other agencies wasn’t exactly keeping the country safe.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) referenced Trump’s often-repeated promise during his 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for his border wall, hammering him for completely changing course and trying to put taxpayers on the hook.

And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged people to pressure McConnell into holding a vote on a spending bill to reopen the government.

Former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, a highly talked-about possible presidential contender after his close Senate race against Ted Cruz, broadcast a Facebook Live video from his home of El Paso, Texas.

The video, titled “Love from the border,” featured O’Rourke sitting and talking with a local man about the lack of walls or fences around the houses of people who live in border communities like El Paso — a direct reference to President Trump’s speech.

Democrats are already setting up their case for distinguishing themselves from Trump in 2020; the president is fixated on the border wall issue — and not seriously interested in reopening the government. As Vox’s Dara Lind has written, Trump has manufactured his own border crisis by severely restricting the flow of immigration through the nation’s ports of entry, creating capacity problems.

But rather than taking steps to address that issue, he is single-mindedly pursuing his wall agenda — possibly at a steep political risk for his own party.

The potential 2020 Democrats made it clear they plan to talk about other issues besides Trump’s wall during the next election cycle, if they run.

“Let’s spend that money on infrastructure, health care, and tackling climate change,” Harris wrote.

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, tens of millions of workers in our country are earning starvation wages and are unable to adequately provide for their families,” Sanders said during his address. “Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real ones.”