Butterfield: Shutdown hurt TSA workers at Greenville airport

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GREENVILLE — Before a Friday afternoon agreement to end the longest U.S. government shutdown in history was announced, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield visited the Pitt-Greenville Airport to show support for Transportation Security Administration workers and call on President Donald Trump and Senate leader Mitch McConnell to broker a deal with congressional Democrats.

Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who represents Pitt and 14 other counties in the 1st Congressional District, had attended a briefing that offered dire warnings about air traffic control, airport safety and national security due to the shutdown.

“It’s conceivable that air traffic control will come to a screeching halt very quickly, and that will be bad for air travel, bad for those who depend on the industry for their employment and it will be bad for the economy,” Butterfield said.

He visited the airport on what would have been payday for the 17 TSA employees there. He said the tight-knit group had reported to work faithfully and were “hanging on by the grace of God” despite going without pay for 35 days.

The shutdown’s impact locally and nationwide was expected to reach critical levels soon: the state Division of Health and Human Services on Thursday urged people who receive food assistance to stretch their budget; residents in eastern counties have been assisting hundreds of U.S. Coast Guard families who have not been paid; and county jails that house federal inmates in North Carolina — there are 54 at the Pitt County Detention Center — have not been paid for the service.

Officials have been growing increasingly alarmed about air travel and security surrounding the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 3 in Atlanta, home to the nation’s busiest airport.

“What all of this means is that the president of the United States needs to go ahead and instruct Mitch McConnell to pass these bills ... and send them to the president for a signature and let’s come back on another day ... to debate border security and find a sensible solution to protecting our border.”

Hours before Trump’s Rose Garden announcement, Butterfield predicted it would not be long before a deal was struck.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some breakthrough in the next 72 hours,” he said. “... The number of American people who are in support of the president on the shutdown issue is at an all-time low, and the president smart enough to recognize he’s not winning this fight. This is a Trump shutdown by anyone’s definition. And the president wants to be re-elected in 2020, and I believe he is doing the calculus as we speak and he will moderate his position.”