State Politics

‘This shutdown is stupid’: Simpson becoming Idaho’s lone vocal critic of Trump’s management

Congressman Simpson speaks on government shutdown

Congressman Mike Simpson on Friday, January 11, spoke about the government shutdown saying, "We all want the government to re-open."
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Congressman Mike Simpson on Friday, January 11, spoke about the government shutdown saying, "We all want the government to re-open."

The record-breaking partial federal government shutdown has pushed one Idaho congressman, typically known for maintaining a focused, thoughtful and laid-back style, into becoming a vocal critic of congressional dysfunction on all sides.

On Wednesday, Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson stood behind his words. He was one of just 10 House Republicans to break rank and vote in favor of a Democrat-led bill to reopen the government. The legislation, which passed in a 234-180 vote, would fund the government through Sept. 30. New Idaho GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher voted no.

The other Republicans voting with Simpson are Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania; Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington; Will Hurd, Texas; John Katko, New York; Adam Kinzinger, Illinois; Chris Smith, New Jersey; Elise Stefanik, New York; Fred Upton, Michigan; and Greg Walden, Oregon.

“Like all Americans, I am extremely frustrated in Congress’ inability to compromise,” Simpson said Wednesday in a statement provided to the Statesman.

And he has a message to Idahoans: “I am sorry for the failure of your elected leaders to fulfill their most basic duty. We are a diverse nation with many different viewpoints, but all Americans expect their government to continue functioning, day in and day out.”

Not only is Simpson frustrated by political posturing and petulance, but also by how the shutdown is directly affecting Idahoans.

“To Idaho, a shutdown means thousands of furloughs for government workers and contractors, a significant reduction in the work being done by the Forest Service to prevent catastrophic wildfires, and the added backlog to the deferred maintenance on our public lands and National Parks, to name just a few things,” he wrote in the statement.

“It is unacceptable to jeopardize the pay of our hard-working civil servants from carrying out their service to the American people. I understand the burden that this has created for many families, and I commend the men and women in our country are currently working with their pay withheld or who are furloughed.”

Since the shutdown began Dec. 22, Simpson has been the only member of Idaho’s delegation to consistently and publicly express his frustration with and concerns about it.

While speaking on the House floor on Jan. 11, Simpson chastised members of both side of the aisle: “The uncomfortable thing is occasionally as elected representatives we are called upon to lead regardless of consequences. And I have to say we’ve all failed. All of us. And for that I am very, very sorry.”

Since the shutdown began, Simpson has made numerous statements to national media, something for which he is typically not known to do.

Here are some of Simpson’s most recent and strongest statements:

“Of course, I think it’s a bad idea to declare a national emergency,” Simpson told Politico on Jan. 11, referring to reports President Donald Trump may take such action regarding the Mexico border wall. “If he can do it here, the next president can do it over climate change, or something.”

The same day, The New York Times reported Simpson said declaring a national emergency is “a bad escape hatch” that was going to anger many House members.

When talk surfaced of Trump considering using Army Corps funding to build the wall, Simpson, who is the ranking Republican on the appropriations panel that oversees Army Corps funding, responded, “I would question the president’s ability to do that. He probably does have [authority], but I would question the wisdom of doing that,” Politico reported Jan. 10.

“The one thing you’ve got when you come into this place is your credibility, and once you lose it, it’s gone and it’s gone forever,” said Simpson, referring to Trump’s credibility, according to a Vice News Jan. 9 report. “He’s lost it. ... It’s very difficult to negotiate anything, because you don’t know if he’s going to stick with it. You don’t know what his attitude is going to be tomorrow or what his position is going to be tomorrow. …There’s a lot of members of our caucus who think this shutdown is stupid.”

As to finding a shutdown solution, Simpson said, “People have to be able to pull back from this,” according to a Jan. 4 New York Times report. ‘‘Sure, we are Republicans and Democrats, but at some point we are the Congress.’”

“I hate it, it’s a terrible way to govern,” said Simpson on the shutdown in a Jan. 3 Politico report. “It could potentially be a very long shutdown.” When asked if things could become awkward if the shutdown drags out, Simpson replied with a laugh: “It’s awkward now!”

Asked about the political impact of the shutdown, and of Trump’s on-again, off-again effort to take credit for one, Simpson told the Washington Post on Dec. 22: “Nobody’s going to remember this in two years. I don’t really listen to what he says anymore. If I did, I’d be listening every minute to see what had changed.”

On Wednesday, Simpson said he hopes the shutdown, now in its 33rd day, will end this week.

“Today, the House will vote on a package of bills that were negotiated last year between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats,” he said in his statement. “Although it does not represent my preferred starting place for negotiations, I support it because it includes provisions that are important for Idaho that I personally worked to secure, including increased funding for sage grouse conservation, PILT, wildfire prevention and suppression, and a prohibition on listing sage grouse as an endangered species, among many others.”

While the other three members of Idaho’s all-GOP delegation, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Russ Fulcher, have been relatively quiet about the shutdown in public, Crapo and Risch did join a group of Senate Republicans to introduce a bill to permanently prevent future government shutdowns. The End Government Shutdowns Act would keep the federal government open whenever key spending deadlines are missed by creating an automatic continuing resolution for appropriation bills or existing continuing resolutions.

“Shutting down the government is the complete opposite of what we were elected to do — govern,” Risch said in a Jan. 11 news release. “I have cosponsored this legislation year after year and hope we can finally move it forward. Real people with real problems get caught in the balance of government shutdowns and we need to act for them and for the sake of government efficiency. I would prefer a smaller and less intrusive government than what we have, but regardless it needs to operate.”

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.