U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday that he doesn’t understand why some federal workers who have been furloughed or are working without pay during the ongoing partial government shutdown are having to turn to food banks and homeless shelters to feed themselves and their families.
“I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said in an interview on CNBC.
Ross, whose net worth in 2016 was estimated to be $2.9 billion, said those workers should seek loans because “the banks and the credit unions should be making credit available to them.”
“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest,” Ross added. “But the idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea.”
The commerce secretary also downplayed the number of federal employees affected by the shutdown, now in its 34th day.
“Put it in perspective, you’re talking about 800,000 workers,” he said. “And while I feel sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases, 800,000 workers if they never got their pay — which is not the case, they will eventually get it — but if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP. So, it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”
Ross said it was “disappointing” that some of the affected federal employees ordered back to work by President Trump are refusing to do so.
“There really is not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis,” he said.
The comments drew immediate scorn online, with critics saying they show an administration out of touch with its own workforce.
At her weekly press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she doesn’t understand why Ross doesn’t understand the hardship of workers who are missing their paychecks.
“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude or ‘call your father for money’ or ‘this is character-building for you, it’s all going to end up very well’?” she said.
“These billionaires that are in all of these Cabinet positions have no idea how many people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said on CNN.
Trump himself has claimed repeatedly that most federal workers support his tactic of shutting down the government to enforce his demand for a border wall — including those directly affected by it. But a recent poll of government employees shows that few actually do.
According to a Government Business Council survey released last week, 71 percent of federal workers oppose the shutdown, compared to just 21 percent who support it. And just 34 percent of federal employees surveyed support Trump’s demand for funding for the wall, while 56 percent oppose it.
After telling the press that federal workers are "volunteering" by continuing to come to work without pay, a reporter calls out Larry Kudlow's incorrect assessment and he fumbles further, saying they are working without pay out of respect for the presidency and Trump. pic.twitter.com/ofN3unRVSY
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) January 24, 2019
Ross wasn’t the only Trump Cabinet member to seem tone deaf in his assessment of the shutdown on workers.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow repeatedly referred to the government shutdown as a “glitch.”
Kudlow also said that employees working without pay during the impasse were “volunteering.”
When pressed by a reporter who disputed the characterization, Kudlow accused him of playing a “semantic game.”
“Give them credit,” Kudlow said of the employees. “They honor us. And they do it because of their love for the country and the office of the presidency and, presumably, their allegiance to President Trump.”
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