As President Donald Trump prepared to address the nation about the partial shutdown of the federal government, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran huddled with staffers this week talking about rocket launches.
They fretted over whether the furlough of workers at NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration could force the delay of satellite and experimental rocket launches.
That shutdown also delays a planned Senate vote on the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the North American Free Trade Agreement replacement negotiated by the Trump administration.
“Getting those answers isn’t easy because the people who normally answer me and my staff’s questions aren’t at work,” Moran told the Kansas News Service.
Moran, a Kansas Republican, chairs the appropriations subcommittee that handles the budgets of NASA, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and scores of other agencies.
He said trade negotiations with the Chinese appear headed toward a conclusion, but staffers supporting the U.S. officials conducting the talks fall among the ranks of furloughed federal workers. The same is true, he said, of workers at the FAA and NASA who license and schedule launches of experimental rockets and those carrying new satellites into orbit.
One of the missions likely delayed by the shutdown is a planned Jan. 17 launch of an unmanned capsule to the International Space Station by SpaceX, a company founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The shutdown has also halted work at the U.S. Department of Commerce on two reports that Congress needs before the Senate can vote to ratify USMCA.
“This will delay our ability to consider a trade agreement that is of significant importance to Kansas,” he said. Mexico and Canada are the top two purchasers of Kansas farm and manufacturing exports.
Beyond those specific issues, Moran said he’s concerned that the shutdown will make it harder for the federal government to recruit the kind of workers it needs, particularly those with technical skills and cybersecurity training.
“They’re in great demand,” he said. “Many of them are very important to our national security.”
But he said when the government can’t guarantee those people will be paid, “they start looking for work elsewhere.”
Ending the stalemate will require compromise on all sides, Moran said. That could mean a deal that gives the president the additional money he’s demanding for border security — including a wall — in exchange for broader immigration reforms. Those could include renewing protection for immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, who face potential deportation after being brought into the country illegally as children.
“That is something we could go to that I think would bring Republican and Democrat support,” he said. “The question is: Would it be something the president would sign?”
Negotiations prove even harder, Moran said, when two sides can’t agree on key facts.
Trump’s speech from the Oval Office drew criticism for its characterization of a border “security crisis.” Leading up to the speech, administration officials made disproven claims that thousands of terrorists are sneaking into the country from Mexico.
“We need to get to the point in this country where facts are agreed to and they don’t change from one day to the next,” Moran said. “We can have the negotiations, but those negotiations can only be successful if we’re all talking about the same set of facts.”
Other members of the state’s congressional delegation continue to defend the president’s claims.
Tweeting after Tuesday night’s speech, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Estes said the president made a clear case for “why we need to address the crisis on our southern border.”
“Democrats must come to the table to negotiate a solution to protect our border and reopen government,” Estes said.
Moran agrees border security is a priority, but he said the threats extend well beyond the U.S. Mexico border.
“It’s all of our borders,” he said. “It’s our ports of entry. It’s our coastline.”
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.
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