WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama warned the nation’s governors Monday that a looming shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security would have a direct impact on their states’ economies, as well as on security throughout the U.S.
Obama was hosting the governors at the White House days before the agency’s $40 billion budget is set to run out because of a dispute over the president’s immigration executive orders. Most of the department’s 230,000 employees would have to keep working after the Feb. 27 deadline, but would not receive pay until Congress authorizes funding.
“They all work in your states,” Obama told the governors. “These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned on Sunday that the possible shutdown threatens to hamstring U.S. response to terrorist threats and warnings, such as the one late Saturday that mentioned the Mall of America in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington.
While some Republican governors have called for compromise, a handful have urged GOP congressional leaders to stand firm, arguing that stopping what they see as Obama’s unconstitutional power grab may be as important as resolving the funding dispute.
Monday’s White House meeting caps the annual winter gathering of the National Governors Association, where talk was dominated by the budget standoff as well as a looming Supreme Court case that could strike down health insurance subsidies for millions of people across more than 30 states.
Obama did not mention the high court case, but did urge governors from states that have not expanded Medicaid under the law to take that step.
“We can all agree that it’s a good thing when a family doesn’t lose a home because a member of that family gets sick,” he said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who chairs the National Governors Association, said he expected the governors to avoid divisive issues at their meeting with Obama. He suggested likely topics would be trade deals, workforce development, education and infrastructure.
“When we go to the president our goal is to try to be more constructive,” he said ahead of the meeting.
Obama, too, struck an optimistic tone as he addressed the governors gathered Monday morning in the White House’s State Dining Room. He declared that the U.S. is “as well-positioned as we’ve been in a very long time” and praised the governors for doing “creative work to enhance the opportunities for advancement of their citizens.”
Republicans made major gains during the midterm elections and now control 31 of the country’s governors’ mansions.