Confusion and disappointment at Fort McHenry as shutdown closes the gates

A small crowd of confused and disappointed visitors gathered at the entrance of Fort McHenry on Saturday morning.

A sign said visitors could go into national parks at their own risk despite the lapse in federal government funding at midnight. But the gates to the historic site were firmly closed.

Soon a police officer opened the gate to let someone out. He told the crowd that opening the gate amounted to a visitor service that the National Parks Service couldn’t provide without authorized funding from Congress.

Amy Rienow, 47, was visiting from Chicago. She said she had checked on her phone and thought the fort would be open.

“My kids really wanted to see this place,” Rienow said.

The scene at the fort Saturday was one of the most visible signs in the region of the shutdown, which began after midnight when the Senate couldn’t reach an agreement on a funding measure. But if the White House and Congressional leaders are unable to strike a bargain by the time the work week begins, some 300,000 federal workers in Maryland face unpaid time off or hours working for free.

Justin Fabrizio, a 35-year-old software tester for a government contractor, jogged up to the gates of Fort McHenry with plans to run a few laps inside. He said he’s been told that if the shutdown isn’t over by Monday he shouldn’t come into work.

Fabrizio’s running buddy Alex Puccio, 32, said he did not understand why the government had shutdown when Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

“There’s a lot of incompetence in my opinion,” he said.

Rienow, who watched from the public gallery as the House of Representatives passed a spending measure on Thursday, said Democrats deserve the blame. No bill can pass the Senate without the support of at least 10 Democratic senators, who are demanding protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — known as Dreamers — as part of a deal.

“I 100 percent blame the Democrats,” Rienow said. “It’s just politics. They’re just trying to play games.”

Maryland’s Democrat-dominated delegation in Washington sought to assign responsibility to Republicans. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, appeared at a news conference with party leaders to lay out their take on the shutdown.

And at the Women’s March rally in front of Baltimore’s City Hall, other members of the delegation addressed the crowd.

“We're going back today,” Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said. “The current administration and congressional leaders are so out of touch they would rather shut down the government than provide long-term funding for basic priorities. Our requests are reasonable. Give children healthcare, protect the Dreamers, help us fight the opioid epidemic and honor our veterans.”

Rep. John Delaney, meanwhile, said he had introduced legislation that would protect the paychecks of federal workers.

“Previous shutdowns have proven to be bad for the country, bad for the economy and bad for people that depend upon government services,” Delaney wrote on Twitter. “Moreover, government shutdowns are especially damaging and disruptive to Maryland.

“There’s got to be a sense of urgency now to get a deal done.”

The effects of the shutdown will be felt unequally on different government departments with operations in the region.

The federal judiciary has money to keep running for several more weeks, meaning there shouldn’t be a delay in the corruption trial of two Baltimore police officers scheduled to begin Monday. At the Naval Academy military professors would continue working, while civilian ones would be off.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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