Leaders vow to avoid shutdown after ‘intense’ Biden meeting

By Manuel Quiñones, Kevin Bogardus | 02/27/2024 04:30 PM EST

All four congressional leaders met with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, and federal workers gathered in Washington urging leaders to avoid a shutdown.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.).

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) leaving the White House's West Wing on Tuesday. Evan Vucci/AP

House Speaker Mike Johnson said he would continue efforts to avoid a government shutdown after meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday morning.

The departments of Energy, Transportation and Agriculture could shut down after Friday if lawmakers don’t act. Numerous other agencies are only funded through March 8.

Appropriators say they have made significant progress in crafting final fiscal 2024 bills, but policy riders are preventing them from reaching the floor.


“We believe we can get to agreement on these issues and prevent a government shutdown,” Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said outside the White House.

The meeting also included House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The speaker also got some time alone with Biden.

Schumer said the group meeting “was one of the most intense” he’s ever seen at the Oval Office. The president and other leaders pushed Johnson to take up national security supplemental legislation with money for Ukraine and Israel.

Johnson told reporters the House was considering its options. “We will address that in a timely manner,” he said.

When it comes to preventing a shutdown, leaders have yet to outline a clear path forward. Schumer said Congress will need to pass new stopgaps.

‘The chaos needs to stop’

National Treasury Employees Union members demonstrate.
National Treasury Employees Union members demonstrate in 2013 in New York City. Members are fighting for workforce protections at the union’s annual legislative conference this week. | John Moore/Getty Images

Meanwhile, members of one of the biggest federal unions are gathering in Washington this week to lobby lawmakers for higher salaries and stronger job protections for the government workforce.

But their most immediate concern is Congress passing new funding to keep agencies open and civil servants on the job.

National Treasury Employees Union President Doreen Greenwald told reporters Tuesday that constant threats of a federal government shutdown require agencies to spend time and resources to prepare for such a possibility, even if Capitol Hill scrambles to pass spending in time.

“It’s damaging to federal employees and to their agencies because they can’t plan ahead,” Greenwald said at the union’s annual legislative conference. “It’s chaos right now, and the chaos needs to stop.”

NTEU represents federal employees in 35 agencies across the government, including EPA and the Energy and Interior departments.

The latest shutdown threat comes during an incredibly busy time for the Biden administration on the regulatory front.

Biden needs to finalize a number of energy and environmental rules this spring to prevent them from being overturned by a future Republican president and GOP-led Congress under the Congressional Review Act if he loses his reelection bid. Yet if federal employees are not on the job, they can’t write the rules.

Greenwald said that would be frustrating for civil servants, adding that these regulations are important to the American people.

“When you have things like a shutdown that takes their focus away and takes away from the work that took them a long time to get to this point, it’s defeating to them and they know that these things are very important to the American people,” Greenwald said.

Tuesday morning, NTEU rallied its members before they headed to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers.

They heard from Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the country’s biggest federal worker union, who warned about a potential second Trump administration. Kelley said that when AFGE and NTEU are working together, “there is nothing that can stop us.”

In a show of solidarity, Kelley spoke at the NTEU conference and Greenwald appeared at his union’s legislative conference earlier this month.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also spoke at the union meeting Tuesday and implored federal employees to stand up for their institutions. “You are our front line on protecting the services of our American system and the democracy of our American system,” he said.

Concerns over ‘a partisan workforce’

NTEU’s legislative agenda this year includes support for bills to raise pay for federal employees, provide paid family leave and ensure full agency funding and staffing. But the union has been proactive in pushing back against Schedule F, a new class of civil servant who could be fired easily.

Former President Donald Trump created the category by executive order in the remaining months of his administration. Biden revoked it soon after taking office and plans to issue a rule to bolster civil service protections later this year.

On Tuesday, NTEU shared with reporters documents it secured under the Freedom of Information Act showing Trump’s order was applied broadly at the Office of Management and Budget. Not just policymaking career staff but information technology specialists and executive assistants were considered for Schedule F.

“Schedule F would insert politics into the workforce by replacing civil servants with partisan loyalists. They’ve come right out and admitted that,” Greenwald said. “They want a partisan workforce. That should scare every American. I know it scares me.”

Schedule F could return with force if Trump or another Republican wins the White House in 2024. Greenwald said her union supports legislation as well as Biden’s rule to stall stripping of civil service protections.

“We are doing everything we can to not only stop it, but in the event that a Schedule F would come into play, to slow that down to put rights in place,” Greenwald said. “Obviously that could be changed going forward by a new administration, but they would have to go through the same processes that we went through to put these protections in place.”

The NTEU leader also said her union is working to guard federal employees’ rights for telework and remote work. The Biden administration, under pressure from Republican lawmakers and local Washington officials, has been pushing to have staff work in the office more often since the emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic wound down.

Greenwald warned that reducing telework could cause some workers to leave public service.

“We fought hard to have telework as part of our contracts, and we’re not going to just suddenly give it up,” Greenwald said. “I’ve had plenty of employees and chapter leaders tell me that if telework is rolled back, they will leave their government job or retire.”