U.S. Rep. DeGette meets with furloughed federal employees as Trump announces deal to reopen the government

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette convened a roundtable discussion with the workers in Denver, who called a short-term solution to the shutdown “a Band-Aid.”
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EPA enforcement attorneys Kayleen Castelli and her husband Matthew talk during a roundtable discussion with federal workers on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Federal workers facing the 35th day of the government shutdown without pay on Friday got a chance to speak directly to someone with a voice in Congress.

They met at U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette's offices in Denver. When he got a chance to speak to DeGette directly, Denverite and furloughed federal worker Matthew Castelli made a direct plea.

"We could use your help using common-sense legislation to reopen the government," Castelli said. "I don't think anyone disagrees that federal employees should be doing their jobs. We want to do our jobs."

A little bit later, his plea was answered by the same person who said he'd be proud to shutdown the government in the first place.

On Friday, President Donald Trump walked out into the White House Rose Garden and announced his intent to sign a bill keeping the government open until Feb. 15. The bill included back-pay for federal workers. More than 800,000 federal workers missed out on their paychecks this week, according to CBS News.

"I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," Trump said.

The meeting at DeGette's office took place as reports about the potential announcement surfaced.

Castelli and his wife Kayleen are both EPA enforcement attorneys. The two joined several other federal workers and employees from organizations affected by the shutdown to discuss their challenges. It was the second time this month DeGette made a public appearance alongside furloughed workers.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette during a roundtable discussion with federal workers on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

When they were told about the potential short-term deal, Kayleen Castelli said it felt, "like a Band-Aid." She wants more job certainty.

"I definitely welcome getting paid, because our mortgage is due regardless of whether or not we go to work, but I think long-term certainty is ultimately what we're looking for," Kayleen Castelli said.

While the reports came in, but before Trump's formal announcement, DeGette said an agreement would mean Trump is "capitulating" to House Democrats' demands. She insisted she won't support any kind of deal involving funding for a wall, which she called "a campaign promise." She does support more border security but in the form of electronic surveillance, drones and physical barriers in some places.

DeGette was prepared to fly to Washington on Friday. She joked that Trump's announcement was tied to Friday's roundtable.

"If in fact that was what President Trump agreed to, that would be what the House Democrats have been saying we needed all along," DeGette said. "I would welcome that."

The request announced Friday included no money for a wall. Trump still talked about it during his announcement, calling the non-existent and unfunded barrier a "smart wall."

Furloughed workers said they are ready to get back to work.

They're hoping to get back to work while dealing with the hardship of zero paychecks. For the Castellis, it means getting paycheck advances and burning through their emergency fund.

NOAA employee Al Romero during a roundtable discussion with federal workers on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Al Romero, who works at NOAA in Boulder, said the work he and his colleagues do saves lives. Romero said the agency provides critical weather information for the FAA and provides weather warnings for tornadoes or tsunamis.

"I personally think the shutdown is a gregarious abuse of taxpayer dollars," Romero said. "We all are dying to get back to do our work. To support everybody, to ensure that everybody gets paid."

Air Traffic Controller Kurt Preston said the shutdown is affecting their ability to do their job and leaving them short-handed. Earlier on Friday, the FAA grounded flights bound to LaGuardia Airport in New York over air traffic control staffing concerns. Flights resumed later in the day.

"We are at work, we're doing the best we can," Preston said. "Safety is the most important thing to us. But we don't have our support. We don't have our support specialists there, so we're not at full capacity as we should be so everything's 100 percent safe."

Morale is at an all-time low, Air Traffic Controller Jeremy Wacker said.

"We have coworkers, they're expecting their first child," Wacker said. "It should be the happiest time in their life. And the uncertainty of when they're going to get that next paycheck is now kind of at the forefront. It's unnecessary."

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