In her first House floor speech as a congresswoman, Rep. Ayanna Pressley made clear who was her intended audience.
“I rise today in opposition to the occupant of the White House,” Pressley said Tuesday afternoon in a scathing, one-minute denunciation of President Donald Trump’s government shutdown over funding for a border wall — which resulted in a reminder from a fellow Democrat to refrain from personal attacks on the president.
“Mr. Trump, you took an oath just as I did five days ago, to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people,” the newly sworn-in Massachusetts congresswoman said. “Sir, you dishonor that oath. You devalue the life of the immigrant, the worker, and the survivor. I see right through you and so do the American people.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 8, 2019
“This has nothing to do with border security,” she continued. “Your shutdown, another Trump generated crisis, has brought a tsunami of hurt.”
Now in its third week, the partial shutdown continued into Tuesday, meaning that more than 800,000 federal employees will start missing paychecks this week and programs like food assistance could begin running dry in the near future.
Pressley said Tuesday that she was standing up for “the voices of the unheard” feeling the pain of the shutdown.
“I rise today on behalf of the families concerned about feeding their children because their WIC benefits will run dry,” she said, referring to the federal assistance program for women, infants, and children that could soon be affected.
“I rise today in solidarity with the thousands of workers with calloused hands and broken spirits working for no pay,” Pressley said. “I rise today in support of the survivor fleeing violent hands, seeking safety, only to find the shelter door locked because of your shutdown. I rise today in support of the American people, who believe in the promise of this nation and ask for honest pay for an honest day’s work. Today I rise as one and I stand as thousands.”
In an increasingly heard reprimand for breaching House etiquette, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a fellow Democrat from North Carolina and the speaker pro tempore Tuesday, reminded Pressley following her speech to “refrain from engaging in personalities toward the president.”
According to Bloomberg, lawmakers were cautioned a record number of times during the previous congressional session for breaking the House rules against “engaging in personalities.”
Pressley isn’t only making speeches. She’s also pushing for legislation to protect workers most at risk of never getting paid due to the shutdown.
While federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown have typically been retroactively paid following previous shutdowns, thousands of additional federal contractors — many of whom are hourly, low-wage workers — are likely to never get reimbursed for lost wages.
Pressley is co-sponsoring a bill with fellow House Democrats that would require any federal contractor that has put low-wage workers — such as those in retail, food, custodial, or security job — on unpaid leave to provide backpay for wages lost due to the shutdown.
“We must ensure that contract services workers, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck, are able to recover their lost wages,” the Boston Democrat said in a statement Tuesday.
Pressley also sent a letter earlier this week to congressional leaders in both parties in the House and Senate, calling for them to support their efforts.
“Regardless of the critical nature of their work, these men and women are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and have been disproportionately impacted by this reckless shutdown,” she wrote.
800k workers are without pay as the shutdown drags on. 2,000 of those workers who make up the backbone of our government in food service & janitorial services won’t qualify for backpay when the gov reopens. Today I wrote to leadership because we need to fix this: @SEIU @32BJSEIU pic.twitter.com/ytZ5vx7iSh
— Rep Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) January 6, 2019
Colin Remal, a spokesman for Pressley’s office, said Tuesday that the freshman congresswoman would be giving a “more formal maiden speech” on the House floor at a later date.