Mitch McConnell’s Shutdown

Both #TrumpShutdown and #SchumerShutdown put the blame in the wrong place.


The #TrumpShutdown hashtag is trending on Twitter, despite the GOP’s best efforts to brand this the Schumer Shutdown. In reality, it’s neither. The blame here rests squarely on the shoulders of the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.

Former Republican Congressman and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough argues, in a series of early morning tweets, that President Trump is the culprit. He makes three points:

  • “Democrats cannot strike a deal with Donald Trump when his own majority leader tells the world he still doesn’t know where this confused, chaotic president stands.”
  • “This is not Chuck Schumer’s shutdown. This is not Mitch McConnell’s shutdown. This is Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s shutdown. This is the result of a confused, chaotic White House.”
  • “Trump keeps making offers before walking them back. He makes deals with Democrats before staff members break them.”

With the exception of the analytic conclusions in the second of those tweets, I agree with all of that. But the analysis is predicated on the assumption that the United States has a parliamentary government. As Scarborough well knows, we don’t. Trump’s fecklessness is frustrating. But it should have no bearing whatsoever on the ability of McConnell to wrangle a deal with Schumer. Indeed, Schumer’s negotiating directly with Trump is simply bizarre; the president is not a party to legislation until after the fact.

Yes, it’s true that Trump ultimately has to sign the bill. But, bluster aside, it’s almost inconceivable that he would veto a spending bill that passed the Republican House and passed the Republican Senate with enough Democratic votes to get to a near-veto-proof supermajority. So, really, Trump’s views on the matter are irrelevant.

My initial instinct, then, was to blame Schumer. After all, the sticking point on getting yet another temporary deal to keep the government open a few more weeks is Schumer’s insistence on including a controversial provision that would grant amnesty to a group of illegal aliens who came here as children. While I happen to support that measure, it has no place in a budget bill and thus has no place in this debate.

The problem, however, is two-fold. First, McConnell couldn’t even get a bill on the floor that got unanimous support among his own caucus. Second, having previously used the extra-constitutional reconciliation workaround to pass a partial ObamaCare repeal—another measure that has no place in a budget bill—he’s allowed himself to be held hostage by the minority party, needing 60 votes to pass a simple continuing resolution. That’s a failure of both leadership and vision.

For the moment, the shutdown is all but symbolic. Most of those of us affected won’t actually be furloughed until Monday morning. But the parties have painted themselves into corners that will be hard to get out of. Schumer and the Dems have pushed all their chips in on the DACA matter; I don’t see how they back out now. Lindsey Graham and others are reportedly working on a separate DACA bill but Trump has said that he won’t sign anything on that until the government is reopened, a position that frankly is not unreasonable.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moosebreath says:


    Much as I dislike McConnell, this is Trump’s shutdown. The famed dealmaker cannot take yes for an answer.

    From CNN’s story on the negotiations between Trump and Schumer:

    “Among the items considered: military funding far above the White House’s request and, enticingly for Trump, full funding for Trump’s border security demands. The border offer went beyond what was included in the bipartisan plan conceived by Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham which Trump rejected last week in vulgar terms.
    The outlines of the potential agreement seemed promising. But it wouldn’t come together in the half-day left before the shutdown. Schumer told Trump they’d need a stopgap plan to fund the government for a few days. Trump concurred, said he’d discuss the plan with Republicans, and promised to phone Schumer later with an update.


    But instead of calling Trump, it was Kelly — the retired four-star Marine who’d sat aside Trump during lunch — who called Schumer. The outline discussed earlier in the day was too liberal, Kelly said, even with a discussion of Trump’s full border request. It wasn’t enough to keep the President negotiating.”

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    Is Trump still going to his 1 year in office anniversary at Mar-a-Logo tonight?

  3. Jen says:

    It’s both McConnell and Trump. McConnell has acquiesced far too much authority on this decision to Trump. Trump doesn’t really know or understand his role, so ceding authority to him to make deals on this makes no strategic or practical sense.

    I have no idea what McConnell thinks he is doing, but it isn’t leading, not by a long shot.

    Republicans have two Senators out for medical reasons over the last few weeks (McCain and Cochran). Furthermore, they knew that other Republican Senators, like Rand Paul, weren’t on board. They can’t even corral their own members. That doesn’t make this a “Schumer” shutdown. It makes it an embarrassing way to run a government.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: I agree that Trump doesn’t seem to know what the hell he wants and has made the process much more frustrating. Still, it’s not his bill to negotiate. McConnell, not Trump, runs the Senate. It’s his job, not Trump’s, to come to a compromise with Schumer that can get 60 votes. Trump can then sign or not sign the bill. Only at that point could it be his shutdown.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Had not considered a benefit of the shutdown would be seeing Dr Joyner’s name here again. It’s an ill wind etc.

    I had thought of the greatest failure here as Trump’s. I’d thought that Sen Graham’s ‘Tuesday Trump/Thursday Trump’ was pretty definitive. He would sign any compromise until he wouldn’t.

    But I guess I do agree with the deeper thought that Trump and the WH Staff really would have had no role in negotiating the ins and outs of a bill in any administration I know of. Of course, the coverage is still fresh and sketchy but as far as I can tell Sen McConnell had no role in the 90 minute conference between Schumer & Trump.

    That’s pretty weird. Shows what has happened to our fathers’ Republican Party. It’s become the name for Trump supporters. Both sad and dangerous.

    @Moosebreath: Thanks for sharing. There’s a lot of flotsam on the tide that would indicate how a small group of WH staff have inordinate power over policy because Mr Trump is so grossly ignorant.

  6. Actually, the reason that reconciliation couldn’t be used isn’t due to f the effort to repeal Obamacare. Remember, the tax bill got through the Senate via reconciliation and without any Democratic support.

    The reason this spending bill needs 60 votes is that it doesn’t qualify for reconciliation under the existing Senate rules.

  7. @Jen:

    Actually, only McCain is out for medical reasons. Cochran is in Washington and voted for the CR last night.

    The Republicans who didn’t vote for the CR were Graham, Rounds, and Rand Paul, all of whom objected to bill on the basis that they don’t believe we should be governing via CR. by contrast, there were five Democrats who voted with the GOP — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

  8. James Pearce says:

    Schumer and the Dems have pushed all their chips in on the DACA matter; I don’t see how they back out now.

    If the Dems did back out –always a possibility with these shruggers– their supporters might tweet out a few mumbles of displeasure, but they’ll still write the checks.

  9. JKB says:

    All in all, this is the SenateShutdown.

    The House passed the bill. The President was mostly uninvolved, despite the Democrats trying to conflate the budget bill with the immigration negotiations. And what is the likelihood of a bill including DACA amnesty would pass the House?

  10. Franklin says:

    Trump is self-known as the Great Dealmaker. With his party’s control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, this deal should have been the easiest one in history. And he couldn’t do it. Must be frustrating to be so impotent.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    It’s worth pointing out that the modern congress is an anomaly. The historical norm for a party with a small majority is to put forth a budget that attracts significant numbers from both parties. For example, under these circumstances we might have seen a budget pass the Senate with 30-40 Repubs and 20-30 Dems. The extremists would have been set aside and mostly ignored in the negotiations. But Gingrich changed all that. He started the policy of 50% plus one vote, wherein if a bill passed with more than that number it was a wasted opportunity. He would add things that angered Dems and plateaued his base until the bill would just pass. Over the years this has come to mean every Republican vote is crucial, no matter how big a nut job casts it.

    This bill is no different. It has been repeatedly loaded with items toxic to Dems. Needlessly. Repeatedly.

  12. matt bernius says:

    If Ryan bring it to the floor, the likelyhood is high. Almost all Democrats will sign on and it’s difficult to see moderate Republicans (especially those in vulnerable areas and the ones who are not immigration Hawks) signing on. Especially to the proposed revisions that came out of the supposed Trump negotiations (if the are accurate).

    That said, for those reasons, Ryan might not let the bill come to the floor.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce: Interesting viewpoint James. So what we should be talking about is the Democrats weakness and poor judgement? The other stuff from that party that can bring actual bills to a vote in both houses as well as having the Presidency, that’s just trivia?

    What’s next? Hillary’s emails?

  14. Jen says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Right, I know Cochran voted–my point, which was not made clearly at all–was that McConnell has known for a while he’d need more than just Republican members, and should have been working to get to 65+ votes, ignoring Trump altogether.

    Congress introduces and passes legislation. The president can sign or veto. Using the president’s (ever-shifting) position as some kind of guidepost is an astonishing abdication of responsibility.

  15. James Pearce says:


    So what we should be talking about is the Democrats weakness and poor judgement?

    No, with Trump at 40% approval (maybe it’s in the 30s today) and with DACA (and CHIP) having support from both parties, we should definitely NOT be talking about Dem weakness and poor judgement.

    But here we are. The government is shut down.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    For which see my comment yesterday, quoting LGM:

    Murc’s law, for the uninitiated, is the widespread assumption that only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    But here we are. The government is shut down.

    This what the contemporary Republican Party does, and why wouldn’t they? They’ve paid absolutely no electoral price for shutting down the federal government.

  18. Hal_10000 says:

    Order of blame for this:

    3) Schumer (20%) — for making passage conditional on a DACA protection. I support DACA (as do the vast majority of Americans, including Republicans). But this is the big hangup. Even attaching six years of CHIP funding couldn’t get him on board.

    2) McConnell (30%) – Flake effectively called him out, saying they should put together a deal and send it Trump and let him sign or veto it. Unfortunately, that time may be passed. With the shutdown in effect, Trump will feel that his manhood is at stake. Which means #1 is:

    1) Trump (50%) – he killed a bipartisan deal on DACA, which plunged us into this abyss. He has given no indication to his own party what his intentions are. And by making immigration his signature issue, he has put that as the stumbling block before everything.

    In past government shutdowns, the President played a key role, making it clear what he wanted, what he might concede on, what he might not. In the Gingrich-Clinton shutdown, Clinton was constantly negotiating with the GOP and you knew what his stance was. In the Obama-Ryan shutdown, both sides were clear on their intentions. Hell, if you go back to the Carter shutdowns, it was clear where everyone stood on the abortion funding issue. Having a White House with no clear agenda is the biggest problem right now.

  19. John430 says:

    This is a SchumerShutdown. Period. Everyone knows it takes 60 votes and the GOP only has 51. The Republican House bill included CHIP funds which the Dems wanted. Schumer’s obstructionist base wanted total capitulation for DACA and were determined to shut down the U.S. government in favor of illegal immigrants. So…American civil service workers, the military and civilian contractors can go to hell, apparently.

  20. Erik says:

    @John430: how many Democrats would need to vote for a bill in order to say that it wasn’t the Democrats’ fault?

  21. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @John430: Look, we get that you don’t really care about anyone not named John430 or Mrs. John430. You don’t need to keep weighing in on this issue for our sake. We get you perfectly. You are as transparent as glass.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    You’re right, James, had Ryan/Pelosi and McConnell/Schumer put a bill on Trump’s desk, he would have signed it. He’d have signed if Schumers concession on immigration was to deport Melania. Otherwise Trump, and only Trump, would be blamed for the shutdown. And McConnell has to know this.

    What I’ve had trouble with is figuring out what McConnell’s game is. I think a couple of commenters at WAPO have it. He’s desperately trying to hold onto DACA as a bargaining chip for an appropriations bill. That said, McConnell’s seat is secure, so I’m just fine with people blaming Trump.

    On a technical note, I’m writing this on my iPad because OTB is unusable on my phone because of “Congratulations” pop ups and the desktop security software just started blocking OTB. This came up awhile ago, Was there a user end solution?

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Yep. I agree with all of that.

  24. James Pearce says:


    They’ve paid absolutely no electoral price for shutting down the federal government.

    The only electoral prices being paid these days are by people who are insufficiently partisan. One can be the source of historic levels of suckage (ie, Trump) and the partisans will line up to defend his dumb ass. We on the left do the same. We don’t boo our failures; we defend them.


    This is a SchumerShutdown. Period. Everyone knows it takes 60 votes and the GOP only has 51.

    I love these 3 sentences and the order they are in.

    “Everyone knows it takes 60 votes and the GOP only has 51.” This is the essential problem, isn’t it? Rather than going, “We don’t have the votes, so we need to turn this into something that can get the votes,” they would rather shut down the government as a strategy to get the votes.

    “Period.” Intended to cut off debate on a very debatable subject.

    “This is a SchumerShutdown.” Ah, and there’s the whole game: who to blame?

    Well, John….who cares? I’m content to shut down the government until Merrick Garland is seated on the Supreme Court. If you guys in Rightyville don’t like it……


  25. Teve tory says:

    @gVOR08: dude the ads here take over my browser and can’t be gotten rid of and I have to shut the browser down and restart it and go back to OTB and go back to the post and I’ve been wondering if I was the only person. God damn Those ads.

  26. charon says:

    @matt bernius:

    That said, for those reasons, Ryan might not let the bill come to the floor.

    Ryan won’t bring a bill forward that could get 60 votes in the Senate because he fears being “Boehnered.” So it is a 3-way impasse.

  27. John430 says:

    @James Pearce: Your position clearly shows that you aren’t interested in improving America but are one of the obnoxious Democrat misanthropes who prefer to trash the US because you can’t have your way and thus throw tantrums. Your type bores me.

  28. John430 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: WOW. You certainly do live up to your screen name. Ignorant Cracker!

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Your position clearly shows that you aren’t interested in improving America but…prefer to trash the US because you can’t have your way and thus throw tantrums. Your type bores me.

    So you’re bored by people like yourself…pots and kettles you know…

  30. James Pearce says:


    Your position clearly shows that you aren’t interested in improving America but are one of the obnoxious Democrat misanthropes who prefer to trash the US because you can’t have your way and thus throw tantrums.

    To the contrary, not being a dick on immigration is one of the best ways of “improving America” that I can think of. The only time an influx of foreigners was bad for America was in the years immediately following 1492.

    Yes, I am an obnoxious Democrat misanthrope. Anyone will tell you that. I won’t apologize for it and I won’t feel bad over it. You know why? Because you elected to the presidency a racist Russian tool who cheats on his wife with pornstars.

    Chuck Schumer is worthless, but your guy is cancer.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @John430: You seem to have taken offense at my comment. Perhaps you should reevaluate the troll that you play on the interwebs so that people will see you in a less negative light.

  32. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I’ll agree with all of that, with the caveat that – in the end – the only thing that truly matters about a shutdown once it has happened is who the public at large blames for it.

    The bulk of that blame seems like it’s going to be hung around the necks of the GOP, which I alluded to in another thread. For better or worse, people tend to blame whomever they perceive to be in charge. Sure, McConnell can’t get a post office renamed in the Senate without Dem support, but public perception is that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, so if a deal couldn’t be reached, it must be their fault.

    The masterstroke of that drama was Claire McCaskilll standing on the Senate floor doing her level best to introduce a clean provision fully funding military paychecks (and nothing else), and being shut down via objection by?

    Mitch McConnell

    Sure, I get that the objection was procedural and grounded in the ridiculously arcane rules of the Senate, but Mister and Mrs Goober MiddleAmerican don’t get that. They just see Mitch McConnell shutting down military paychecks. Casual observation bears this premise out: Mr & Mrs Goober – Republicans – are raking him over the coals on his Facebook page over it. That video bite – A Democrat trying to make sure soldiers get paid and the Senate Majority Leader saying “No” – kills any hope McConnell had of being able to hang any of this around the necks of Democrats.

    This shutdown is a tad different from 2013, in one primary way: it’s being played out in real time on social media, and I have to give the Dems credit here – they were ready and prepared to fight on that turf.

    I know Trump quite well from years of dealing with his BS, and I can tell you this: that hashtag thing is eating him alive. You haven’t seen the entirety of the stupidity it will drive him to in this little drama (yet), but he’ll end up causing Republicans to be blamed for this.

    In an election year, I couldn’t really ask for more from him.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @t: There’s an old saying about the way that you know that you’re in the center is because they’re shooting at you from all sides.

  34. John430 says:

    @James Pearce: Glad you agree on Schumer. Here’s his hypocrisy in 2009: “People who enter the United States without our permission are illegal aliens and illegal aliens should not be treated the same as people who entered the U.S. legally.”
    The above quote from @SenSchumer

    Schumer has moved full speed ahead on lies and subterfuge on immigration for decades because there was no organized and precise voice to give power to the silent majority on this issue. Nobody has stood for the forgotten American taxpayer, who must bear the burden of terrible immigration policy.