Another Shutdown? White House Says Maybe, Senate Republicans Aren’t So Sure

The White House isn't ruling out the idea of a second government shutdown, but Senate Republicans have other ideas.

While the White House isn’t ruling out the possibility of another shutdown, there are signs that Senate Republicans could revolt against the idea of reliving the last five weeks all over again:

Senate Republicans can’t stomach another shutdown.

After weathering 35 days of a partial government closure, the Senate GOP is dreading the possibility another one will hit in less than three weeks — a sentiment that could prevent President Donald Trump from closing the government again.

Though House Republicans aren’t ruling out supporting the president should he choose another confrontation over his border wall, the Republican Senate majority — which actually has governing power — has another view.

“I did not love the shutdown. I wouldn’t think anybody would have another shutdown,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the key negotiators trying to strike a deal on border security.

Most GOP lawmakers dutifully stuck with Trump in public as the partial government shutdown dragged on. But privately, Republican support began to crack as their polling and the economy both suffered. After a half-dozen GOP senators defected last week, Trump dropped his demands for border wall money before a full-scale revolt unfolded.

There is broad recognition within the administration, including on the president’s part, that shutting down the government is not an effective strategy for extracting concessions, according to White House aides.

But while White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump “doesn’t want to go through another shutdown,” she declined to rule it out if Congress doesn’t come up with a border security plan to Trump’s liking. Neither did House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump confidant.

The prospect of a second shutdown after the longest one in history is something Senate Republicans still take seriously despite rising hopes it can be avoided with a bipartisan border deal or even some sort of executive action by the president. Asked how seriously she is taking the potential for another funding debacle, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) replied: “Very.”

“I want to be able to say that: ‘no, it’s not possible that we would go back into another shutdown.’ But I didn’t think the first one that was 35 days was possible either,” she said.

Senators are already making calls to gauge what their fellow conference committee members might support ahead of their first meeting Wednesday. And Republicans writ large are touting the panel as a possible solution for the problem.

But if that committee fails, as many on the Hill privately believe is likely, Trump has touted two paths to again try to build his wall: a shutdown or a national emergency on the border.

“The preferred manner of going forward would be some type of executive action vs. shutdown. But that doesn’t mean that shutdown is off the table,” said Meadows, who helped push Trump to shut down the government in the first place.

Senate Republicans loathe both options, but for now, they’d choose almost anything over another funding lapse.

As Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) put it: “I don’t think we want to face another shutdown. And I certainly don’t think we want to have emergency action taken. So the president and Congress will have to come together.”

“It goes almost without saying that shutdowns are a very bad idea. And we should not use them as a political weapon,” Romney added, as he enjoyed his first day in the Senate with the government fully open.

“There’s a lot of lessons learned. Just like I learned in 1995 when I thought it was a good thing to shut down the government,” said Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior GOP senator. “Government’s a service for people of this country and they can’t be served when government’s not functioning.”

The Republican retreat from the border wall confrontation was evident on Monday not just among the rank and file.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) barely mentioned the standoff over the border, other than to ding Democrats for voting against a Middle East policy bill during the shutdown.

It seemed few Republicans had any desire to rehash the episode.

“There is little or no appetite for it,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Those who thought that shutdowns were a good idea have been disabused by that.”

As I noted, though, the President and the White House is insisting that a second shutdown is not out of the question:

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said the odds congressional negotiators will craft a deal to end his border wall standoff with Congress are “less than 50-50.”

As hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers prepared to return to work, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t think the negotiators will strike a deal that he’d accept. He pledged to build a wall anyway using his executive powers to declare a national emergency if necessary.

“I personally think it’s less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board,” Trump said in an interview Sunday with the newspaper.

The president was referring to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers that will consider border spending as part of the legislative process.

The president’s standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking. The spending bill Trump signed on Friday to temporarily end the partial government shutdown funds the shuttered agencies only until Feb. 15.

It’s unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle over the weekend, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!” he tweeted.

Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?

“Yeah, I think he actually is,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. “He doesn’t want to shut the government down, let’s make that very clear. He doesn’t want to declare a national emergency.”

But Mulvaney said that at “the end of the day, the president’s commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress.”

The linchpin in the standoff is Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

Asked if he’d be willing to accept less than $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the southern border, Trump replied: “I doubt it.” He added: “I have to do it right.”

He also said he’d be wary of any proposed deal that exchanged funds for a wall for broad immigration reform. And when asked if he would agree to citizenship for immigrants who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children, he again replied, “I doubt it.”

With the White House still taking the position that a shutdown is possible, and the President insisting that he will not accept a bill that doesn’t include funding for his border wall, it’s hard to see how another shutdown is avoidable. However, the fact that we’re seeing Republicans in the Senate openly rebelling against the idea, it’s possible that the impenetrable wall that the Administration thought it had in the Senate may not exist after all. During the shutdown, we saw several Senators, especially those who might be considered vulnerable in 2020 such as Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine and others beginning to waiver in their support for the President. After the Senate rejected both Republican and Democratic proposals to end the shutdown late last week, the rumblings of a rebellion in the Senate began. That, along with the reports about the shutdown beginning to impact service at airports on the East Coast, is reportedly what finally spurred the White House to back down and agree to a deal that ended the shutdown for now. The idea that those same Republicans would just blindly follow the President over the cliff again seems absurd on its face.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Senate and House Republicans will not tolerate it, as it will affect their chances for reelection

    As it is, unless they are in crimson solid red areas, they are already challenged.

    Titanic. Sinking.

  2. Kathy says:

    The Trump Shutdown was more like a Wile E. Coyote trap.

    This is not surprising, as other things El Cheeto has done turn out to hurt him, or his party, or his country, more than they do the intended target. Like the tariffs.

  3. Teve says:

    ABC/WaPo poll recently showed 56% of voters would not consider ever voting for Trump. Create another shutdown Donnie, let’s see how high that number can go.

    Another Shutdown and we could nominate the chimp from Any Which Way But Loose and win.

  4. we could nominate the chimp from Any Which Way But Loose

    Arguably more qualified than the current occupant of the Oval Office

  5. charon says:

    There would not have been a first shutdown minus Mitch McConnell complicity. Turtle, unlike Trump, is willing to draw the appropriate lesson from experience.

  6. Scott F. says:

    Of the Republicans quoted in these articles, all but Meadows voted for the Democratic version of the funding bills last week IIRC, so I don’t know if there’s a valid claim of further erosion in GOP solidarity. Still, they all must see that another shutdown would be disastrous for them. There’s not going to be $5.7B worth of wall money making it into a bill, so the legislative options look like either something vague enough that the Liar in Chief can claim it is wall funding when it clearly isn’t or a Trump veto that the Senate would override. Both seem unlikely.

    Freedom Caucus frontman Rep. Meadows is signaling emergency executive action, so that’s where I’d put my money.

  7. CSK says:

    It seems almost pointless to speculate, given that Trump is impulse-driven as well as easily manipulated. His base won’t care what he does, because it’s him they love for his churlishness, stupidity, venality, and cruelty, and not anything he does or doesn’t do.

  8. Kylopod says:

    Lindsay Graham is now suggesting that they tie border-wall funding to the debt limit.

    It is hard to overstate how stupid this idea is. First, we already know how the story of a Trump shutdown fight ends, because we just lived through it. The public blames the Republicans. End of story. Debt default would cause way more damage to the country, but there’s no reason to think the public would be any less likely to blame the Republicans than with the shutdown.

    When debt-limit brinkmanship was used during the Obama years, at least the Republicans had leverage in the sense that default would have probably resulted in an economic downturn that would have doomed Obama’s reelection prospects even if the public blamed the initial conflict on Republicans. But with a Republican in the White House, that no longer applies. Trump would be essentially pointing a gun at the one thing keeping him politically aloft.

    Of course, whether he sees things that way is an open question.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’m not clear on what Sen. Grassley’s point was. Is he saying that in 1995 he was a stupid weasel but that now he’s learned and is a craven one instead?

  10. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: He was an orangutan. I kind of wish that Clint Eastwood had continued his political career, and run for President in 2000 or so. He wouldn’t have been worse than George W. Bush (probably) and he would have created a strong precedent (along with Reagan) that Republican Presidents have a monkey or ape.

    Mostly, I want to see Mitt Romney palling around with a monkey in Iowa. Also, Donald Trump hates animals, so we might have been spared him.