Trump ordered unpaid workers back to the IRS to send out tax refunds — but many aren't showing up

Trump ordered unpaid workers back to the IRS  to send out tax refunds — but many aren't showing up
Trump/Shutterstock
Trump/Shutterstock

In continuing the Trump shutdown despite broad public opposition, the White House is playing an increasingly dangerous game. You can put Americans through a lot, but start messing with their tax refunds, as the shutdown is now threatening to do, and even the most dedicated of red hats may begin to droop.


The White House's few remaining strategists know this, which is why last week the administration summarily ordered 30,000 previously-deemed-nonessential IRS workers back to work, still with no pay, in order to process and send out those refunds the vast American public is expecting. It's not clear that this is legal, by the way—that the administration can, without congressional approval, order tens of thousands of additional federal workers to work without pay in order to stave off bad press—but it has been done anyway, averting the possibility that millions of Americans will find themselves without those refunds for an unknown, and possibly extended, length of time.

Or not. The Washington Post reports that "hundreds" of IRS employees have received permission to stay home from work due to "financial hardship," and those numbers may be about to get much, much worse.

[U]nion leaders said Tuesday that they expected absences to surge as part of a coordinated protest that could hamper the government’s ability to process taxpayer refunds on time.

Those protests are "widespread," says the Post, and that is precisely what the Trump administration does not want to see happening. You cannot force workers to work without pay indefinitely, at least not anymore. Many will quit; the others may show up at your doorstep. Even if Trump "orders" his government to reopen the portions of government he knows Americans are most surly about losing, there may not be enough willing workers to do it.

“I would say a majority of employees are calling out under hardship,” [local union president Gary Karibian] said. “I’m getting reports whole teams are requesting out. One person told me, ‘I’m the only one on my team here.’ ”

And that is how this is going to start to go, very, very quickly, if Trump insists on continuing the shutdown for even two more weeks. Whether it be in the IRS, in the Department of Homeland Security, or elsewhere in the government, most federal workers simply cannot work without pay, no matter how devoted they are to jobs or country. He's running out of time.

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