Another Shutdown In Three Weeks?
Is the settlement of the government shutdown just delaying the inevitable?
The short answer is that nobody knows. Trump is still demanding a border wall, and given his leadership style, there are no guarantees until a deal is actually cut. He seemed to set the stage Friday for simply declaring a national emergency if congressional Democrats don’t agree to fund the wall, but who knows. We didn’t even think the current shutdown would happen until Trump changed his mind at the last minute, after Senate Republicans had already passed a clean government-funding bill.
But those Republicans also hold the key to Trump being able to force the issue here, and whether they would go along with another shutdown is anything but assured.
It didn’t seem they particularly wanted this shutdown, after all. But they were stuck between what they surely had to know was an unwinnable fight and a president who insisted upon throwing down. Layer over that the fact that running afoul of Trump comes at great cost within the party, and their hands were tied. Much as GOP leaders essentially had to go along with the tea party’s failed push to defund Obamacare during the 2013 government shutdown, these Republicans were hostages to their base — and to the president who promised them a wall.
Polls showing Republicans taking much more of the blame, increasingly tough headlines about shutdown impacts and a second straight missed paycheck for federal workers seemed to push things to a breaking point. Republicans were clearly losing the will to stand by Trump. As The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane reported, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed exasperation with the mere idea of using a shutdown as leverage:
Also during the lunch, McConnell made clear to Pence and others in the room that the shutdown was not his idea and was not working. According to Republicans familiar with his comments, he quoted a favorite saying that he often uses to express his displeasure with government shutdowns: “There is no education in the second kick of a mule.”
McConnell started using that saying after the 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days and ended after the public largely blamed Republicans.
That doesn’t sound like someone who is ready to shut it down again. Nor does it sound as though others were prepared to use such brinkmanship in three weeks. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) reportedly lashed out at McConnell for taking the party down this path. And Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) concluded his statement Friday by saying there should be no more shutdowns.
In addition to the Senate Republicans, one would think that the White House has learned its lesson through this shutdown as well. As I noted earlier, the President began this shutdown because he rejected a deal that he had previously accepted that would have kept the government open from late December through February 8th, a time period that could have been used to negotiate some kind of deal on border security and immigration. In the meantime, he would have avoided the obvious political disaster that this shutdown has been for him. Given that, repeating the exercise would seem to be incredibly politically foolhardy even for Trump, who seems to specialize in the politically foolhardy. Additionally, his implicit threat to attempt to use his power to declare a national emergency to get the wall built doesn’t seem to be particularly concerning. This is a measure he threatened to undertake several times during shutdown only to back away, suggesting that even his own lawyers are telling him that he doesn’t have the power to do this. Even if he did, it’s likely that he’d be blocked by the Federal Courts almost as soon as the ink was dry on his Executive Order. Finally, the extent to which Trump has lost this battle make trying it all over again seem so foolish that even he wouldn’t be tempted to try it again.
Among Republicans more generally there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm to relive the political disaster that has unfolded over the past thirty-five days. While most of the polling showed that it was the President who was taking the blame rather than Republicans more generally, it was likely only a matter of time before public ire started to focus on Republican legislators in the House and Senate, not to mention the fact that Senators and Members of Congress were hearing loud and clear from Federal workers back home about the impact of the shutdown on them and on communities across the nation. Allowing it to happen again would seem to clearly be political suicide on their part. Given that, it seems unlikely that Republicans on Capitol Hill would be standing as firmly behind the President as they did for most of the shutdown. Indeed, had the shutdown gone on much further, it’s likely that we would have seen further defections from the Republican side of the bench.
Taking all of this into account, my guess is that we’re unlikely to see a repeat of what has unfolded over the past five weeks. Of course, this is Donald Trump’s Washington so there’s no telling what might happen.