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Congressman says the shutdown has become personal

Robert Houk • Jan 18, 2019 at 12:00 AM

U.S. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Thursday he “doesn’t understand the logic” behind what has become the longest federal government shutdown in the nation’s history. And though he said it might seem to be “grandstanding” to some, Roe has declined to accept his own federal paycheck “when others aren’t getting paid.”

Roe said the shutdown could be resolved “in 5 minutes” if President Donald Trump and congressional leaders would “only get into a room together.” He told reporters on a conference call from his office on Capitol Hill that he believes the president has made a strong case for the $5.7 billion to build a wall on this country’s border with Mexico.

“It’s really political and unfortunate,” Roe said. “It’s become a game and needs to be stopped.”

The 1st District congressman said his sympathies are with the Transportation Security Administration officers he encounters at the Tri-Cites Airport who are not being paid during the shutdown, which reached its 27th day on Thursday. He said he has also received reports of “trash not being picked up” and other problems at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

He said the partial government shutdown has become “very personal to people who have bills to pay.” Roe said he and his colleagues on Congress are “on call” if needed to break the impasse.

He said he would even skip Republican Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s inauguration ceremonies in Nashville this weekend if it meant ending the shutdown.

“I’m ready to get this resolved,” Roe said. “The sooner the better.”

In other issues, Roe told reporters he joined his colleagues in the U.S. House in voting for a resolution Tuesday condemning Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for questioning why phrases such as "white supremacist" are offensive.

The resolution passed by a 424-1 tally, with King himself voting in favor. 

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?’’ King told The New York Times last week. The Iowa lawmaker has since said those comments were taken out of context.

When asked if King should be removed from office, Roe said that was “a decision that should be made by voters in his district, not by me.”

He also addressed an image posted online Wednesday by HuffPost’s photographer Matt Fuller of Roe and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., talking with Chuck C. Johnson — who has been identified by Mother Jones, TPM and other media sources as a “Holocaust denier” with ties to white supremacists — in a hallway of Congress. The Johnson City lawmaker said he was asked by Harris, who like Roe is a medical doctor, “to discuss genome sequencing” with Johnson.

Roe said he was not familiar with Johnson or his background, and his staff had Googled Johnson’s name and found nothing substantial. He said he met with Johnson as a courtesy to his colleague.

“Look, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to do the right thing,” Roe said.

Harris said in a statement released to TPM on Wednesday that he was “unaware” of Johnson’s “previous associations.” He also said, “Of course I disavow and condemn white supremacy and anti-semitism.”

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