U.S. Sen. Manchin briefs federal workers at Yeager Airport on partial government shutdown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- On day 20 of the partial government shutdown, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) spoke to federal workers at Yeager Airport about what he called a "critical" situation.

"We had a total political meltdown," said Manchin.

There are 18,000 federal workers in West Virginia, according to Manchin. More than 800,000 workers across the country missed their first paycheck Friday under the stoppage, which began Dec. 22. More than half of the 800,000 are still on the job.

Those government employees are in limbo as Republicans and Democrats go back and forth on funding to build President Donald Trump's long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall

"It's unfortunate that there are 18,000 families in WV that are being held ransom," said Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango at the press conference. "It has to end and it has to end now."

At Yeager, Manchin pointed out that non-essential employees were furloughed and essential employees, like TSA agents and air traffic controllers, are working without pay.

Some employees are having to work overtime, while still not getting paid, to make up for the absence of their co-workers. They received their last paychecks, only to find zeroes on them.

"Any way we can help you, I'd be happy to do it," said Manchin, inviting the federal workers to contact his office with any questions or struggles they may have.

Calling the shutdown "crazy," Manchin said the root of the conflict in Washington D.C. right now is immigration.

"This is an immigration problem," said Manchin. "I'm for security. I've always voted for border security. I'll continue to vote, but it's more than border security."

He said immigration reform is necessary to move forward. The senator said there needs to be a better pathway for the people coming to America for the right reasons, and better security for the people immigrating for the wrong reasons.

"How's this going to end? I really can't tell you," said Manchin. "I can only just apologize for what's going on."

While Manchin said he doesn't think it's right for President Trump to declare a national emergency (and Manchin believes the courts will overturn it,) he said he fears it may be the only way out of this shutdown. If the president is going to do it, the senator says he wants him to do it now.

"Let's start acting like Americans some day again," said Manchin.

The senator also talked about the back pay bill Congress passed on Friday.

Lawmakers in the House voted to ensure that all federal employees will be paid retroactively after the partial government shutdown ends. The Senate approved the bill unanimously Thursday. The bill requires that all employees, including those who have been furloughed, be paid as soon as possible once the government reopens.

The legislation now heads to Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The airport in Charleston was just one of his stops Friday. Sen. Manchin also visited United Food Operations Inc. in Institute and the Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington.