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For KC-area federal workers, symbolic fight over a border wall has real consequences


Lives are literally at stake,” Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids tweeted, “b/c the federal government is shutdown.”

Her fellow Washington newcomer, Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins, tweeted a video that shows him striding through the Capitol purposefully as he blasts unseen forces for that shutdown. “The partial government shutdown affects too many Kansans,” he says into the camera. “My problem with it is that we as congressmen get paid but you don’t. I’m not OK with that, so I’m requesting to leadership that if you don’t get paid, I don’t.” Watkins, who with his father bankrolled his own campaign, may or may not feel the pinch of that sacrifice.

But either way, there’s a key difference between his displeasure over the shutdown and Davids’. He voted against reopening the government, as did his two fellow Republicans in the Kansas House delegation, Roger Marshall and Ron Estes. Davids and her fellow Democrats voted to end the shutdown, but without President Donald Trump’s must-have $5 billion in funding for a wall along our border with Mexico.

On Tuesday night, Trump will again explain why he’s for continuing that shutdown until Congress comes through with the money. He’s said it could drag on for years as far as he’s concerned. But the arguments he’s made to justify construction are demonstrably false.

No, terrorists and other criminals aren’t pouring across our southern border. The 10-terrorists-a-day claim, which was rated a Four Pinocchio-whopper by The Washington Post, includes those turned away from all ports of entry, mostly at airports. No, the wall wouldn’t pay for itself; Trump’s basing that assumption on the notion that a new physical barrier would have a significant impact on the heroin trade, but most heroin is shipped into the country from Mexico, hidden in other products.

Officials in cities along the border have argued that a new wall is not what they need.

It is what the president needs, to save face with Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and those supporters who took him literally on that promise if on nothing else.

Who else would benefit? We’d love to see him produce some proof for his repeated claim that those government employees not being paid as a result of the shutdown support his decision to keep them out of work as long as necessary.

In the Kansas City area alone, that includes 19,000 federal workers. That’s 19,000 people whose mortgage companies and landlords and groceries and insurance companies may or may not get paid. (OK, we’re not crying for the insurers.) Small businesses are hurt first and worst in this situation, as always.

Joseph Rupnick, chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, said in an interview with The Star’s editorial board that the shutdown could interrupt the delivery of food to some 270 of the 1,500 people living on the tribe’s reservation in Kansas. Funds for early childhood education, social services and an Environmental Protection Agency grant to expand wetlands are also on hold for now, he said.

The tribe may have to put off necessary roof repairs and replacement of HVAC equipment to help fill in some of the gaps as best it can. “With the shutdown,” he said, “the poorest population always gets hurt most, and I’m not just talking about Indian tribes.”

The fight in Washington really is over a symbol. To Trump and his supporters, the wall symbolizes not our strength so much as his. To House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, it symbolizes what she’s called “an immorality” — a “Keep Out” sign for immigrants that’s the antithesis of the message on the Statue of Liberty.

Even if Trump got the $5 billion, that would never — and was never going to — build a wall across the entirety of the border. Whatever it’s made of and whatever we call it, it, too, is going to be largely symbolic at this point, even if some modified version of it is built.

But to the Americans here and elsewhere who are already being hurt by this shutdown, there’s nothing symbolic about the fallout from this political fight. And in the end, the winner may not be the one who cares least, but on the contrary, the one who blinks.

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