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With the federal government facing another partial shutdown on Friday over border-security funding – just three weeks after the longest such shutdown in history – Vail native and U.S. Senate candidate Mike Johnston says dysfunction in the upper chamber of Congress is a big reason why he’s running.
“I come from a part of Colorado where when there are hard problems, people solve them,” Johnston, a former state senator from Denver, told RealVail.com after the previous 35-day partial shutdown of about 25 percent of the federal government cost the economy an estimated $3 billion. “You just roll up your sleeves and you figure it out and you get it done.”
A 17-member congressional conference committee of both House and Senate members failed to come up with a compromise agreement on border-security funding over the weekend, dramatically increasing the chances of yet another shutdown. Johnston argues that’s unacceptable, especially in a standoff over money for President Donald Trump’s border wall.
“I felt like I was able to [solve tough problems] as a teacher and as a principal and as an entrepreneur and as a business owner, and I felt like I came from a community [in Eagle County] that did a lot of that,” Johnston said, “and to watch what’s supposed to be the best deliberative body in the world fail to even be able to keep the lights on … was really disappointing.”
Johnston hopes to land the Democratic nomination to take on Colorado junior U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, in 2020. Gardner issued this statement when the last shutdown ended without any additional U.S. taxpayer money for Trump’s campaign promise of a southwestern border wall funded by Mexico.
“I’ve been clear that I do not believe government shutdowns are ever the right answer, and I applaud the president’s funding resolution to reopen the government and provide a platform for additional border-security funding.” Gardner said on Jan. 25.
“Today’s announcement to reopen the government and come together to negotiate border security is what I have been saying from the very beginning. Now that the government will reopen, it is time to leave partisan corners, work together to fund border security and get back to work for the American people.”
That now appears unlikely to happen by Friday, with both Republicans and Democrats digging in and Trump holding a rally Monday in El Paso, Texas, even as he sends more troops to the border.
During the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and yet failed to provide anything close to the $25 billion Trump was seeking from American taxpayers to build the wall. Trump now has shifted to saying Mexico will ultimately pay for the wall through a renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal.
Johnston argues the idea of a wall is a medieval concept and huge waste of money anyway.
“I don’t think there’s any good argument to be made that there should be funding for a wall,” Johnston said, arguing for a comprehensive approach to enhanced border security that includes employer enforcement, better technology, better processing of asylum-seekers and a better system of legal immigration.
“I think the strategy is not to erect a medieval wall when 75 percent or more of the people that are overstaying their visas are coming in by plane. That’s a 900 AD solution for a 21st century problem,” Johnston said. “You can find reasonable people [in Congress] who want to make sure you can secure the border without having to hold the government hostage to do it.”
Following Trump’s State of the Union speech on Feb. 5, Gardner issued this statement:
“I applaud the president’s call for compromise and cooperation tonight,” Gardner said last week. “It is time to leave partisan corners and work together on behalf of the American people to move our country forward. I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix our broken immigration system, fund border security, invest in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure to reduce traffic in Colorado, and bolster our national security.”
Just last year, Trump rejected a Democratic proposal for $25 billion in border-security funding, including wall money, that would have also protected young immigrants brought to the country at a young age known as Dreamers. Trump refused to consider the proposal because it didn’t do anything to limit legal immigration, although recent reports reveal Trump’s golf resorts and hotels have benefited from lower cost immigrant labor – both legal and illegal.
“Certainly we should have conversations about border security, but that’s a much more complicated strategy of what do you do on employer enforcement?” Johnston said. “There’s a way to effectively manage this, which is actually hold accountable the employers that are employing people because they have labor needs without making sure they have proper immigration status. That’s a far more effective strategy than it is to build a wall.”