President Donald Trump seemed to discount reports of federal workers relying on food pantries or being unable to pay their mortgages during the ongoing partial government shutdown, saying Thursday that supermarket owners and home lenders would “work” with them during such difficult times.
His comments came just hours after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shrugged off the woes of some 800,000 federal workers who have not been paid this year due to the shutdown, which has stretched into its second month.
“Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else,” Trump said after being asked about Ross’ statements. “And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.”
The president noted that he hadn’t heard Ross’ comments himself and that “perhaps he should have said it differently.” But Trump defended the man and said that banks were also “working along” with those facing financial hardship during the shutdown, “and that’s what happens in a time like this.”
“If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along,” Trump said.
Ross has drawn fierce criticism for his remarks Thursday on CNBC that the media were forgetting people were “eventually going to be paid.” He said he didn’t “really quite understand why” some people would have to rely on food banks. He also discounted the scope of those affected by the shutdown, alluding that the number of people only represented a fraction of the nation’s financial output.
“Put it in perspective: You’re talking about 800,000 workers, and while I feel sorry for individuals who 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, who also suggested that workers could simply take out loans to cover their expenses, is worth an estimated $700 million.
The pair’s comments fall in stark contrast to widespread reports of federal employees struggling to make ends meet. Workers are expected to miss their second paycheck of the year on Friday after Congress failed to pass any legislation meant to end the shutdown this week. An end to the impasse still appears to be far off.
The commerce secretary’s statements drew swift rebukes from congressional Democrats, who accused Ross of espousing the “21st century equivalent of ‘Let them eat cake.’”
“Many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday on the Senate floor. “Secretary Ross, they just can’t call their stockbroker and ask them to sell some of their shares. They need that paycheck.”