Congress members donate salaries during the shutdown, but not Trump appointees

The US government shutdown is the longest in history, at 24 days.
The US government shutdown is the longest in history, at 24 days.
Image: AP/Evan Vucci
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Over 70 members of Congress are refusing their salaries or donating them to charities that are helping federal workers during the government shutdown, now in its 24th day. But that charitable (and politically savvy) impulse apparently hasn’t spread to White House officials or members of Trump’s cabinet.

Quartz reached out to agencies in Trump’s cabinet, as well as the vice president’s office and the White House press office in recent days, to ask if Trump political nominees, or the president or vice president themselves were making any charitable donations during the shutdown. So far, not a single agency of the nearly twenty Quartz contacted has responded in the affirmative, although a snow day in Washington DC on Monday (Jan. 14) may be delaying responses somewhat.

Trump’s cabinet is one of the wealthiest ever assembled in history. Some department secretaries, including Betsy DeVos, the Education secretary, a billionaire who owns multiple yachts, were already donating their government salaries to a charity before the shutdown. Other presidential advisors, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, don’t draw an annual salary.

Trump pledged to donate his approximately $400,000 salary to charity when he took office; the White House press office didn’t immediately respond to questions about any further donations he may be making to federal workers. Vice President Mike Pence makes $230,700. a year; his office didn’t respond over several days about whether he was drawing or donating that salary during the shutdown. Departments that are completely unaffected by the shutdown, including Defense, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Energy didn’t respond to inquiries about whether their top officials are donating their salaries.

Several government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, are deeply affected by the shutdown, and the officials who head them are believed to be among the 800,000 government workers not getting paid.

Still, the contrast between the executive branch and Congress is stark. Dozens of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have been publicly declaring their donations or refusing their salaries. So far 71 members of Congress, or about 13% of Congress overall, are opting not to take a paycheck, according to a CNN compilation. The list includes several freshmen.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas who was sworn in this month, said he wouldn’t draw a salary.

Congress members are paid a base rate of $174,000 a year (pdf, pg. 3) with leaders from each chamber drawing higher salaries. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, for example, is paid $193,400.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, is donating his salary to food banks in his state until the “reckless” shutdown is over. “If Congress cannot do our job, we should not get paid,” he said.

McConnell, who helped spark the shutdown by refusing to introduce any spending bill that the president wouldn’t sign for a Senate vote back in December, has not said anything publicly about donating his salary, and didn’t respond to an inquiry.

Some Trump administration officials bristled at the question. ”We’re political appointees, not elected officials,” griped one White House official when asked whether anyone in his department was donating to federal workers. Personally, he added, it’s a moot point—he’s one of federal workers not getting paychecks.