Temper Tantrums Abound As Shutdown Continues

As the government shutdown continues, Washington is coming to resemble a fight between toddlers. Except the toddlers have the excuse of not knowing any better.

With the shutdown entering its twenty-eighth day, and no prospect of any action being taken over the upcoming three-day weekend, New York Times reporter Mark Landler notes that Washington is beginning to resemble of a toddler’s sandbox rather than the seat of the world’s oldest representative democracy:

WASHINGTON — In a week of White House tantrums and fast-food dinners, of canceled speeches and aborted congressional trips, it seemed fitting that Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, announced that she was going back to her job as an elementary schoolteacher.

Washington these days resembles nothing so much as an unruly sandbox. As the shutdown drags on, septuagenarian politicians are squabbling like 7-year-olds, House freshmen staged a boisterous protest march to the empty office of the Senate majority leader and the president’s lawyer went spectacularly off the rails in a television interview. There did not seem to be an adult in sight.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do, which is to teach art,” Ms. Pence said in a statement about her new job, conjuring up a world of finger-painting and construction paper that seemed more civilized than the “Lord of the Flies” playground inhabited by her husband and his colleagues.

In that world, President Trump sent Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter telling her that he was postponing her trip with a congressional delegation to visit American troops in Afghanistan. The president’s salvo came 24 hours after Ms. Pelosi informed Mr. Trump that because of the shutdown, she was rescinding her invitation to him to deliver a State of the Union address in the House chamber.

Democrats celebrated Ms. Pelosi’s letter as a power move by a seasoned Washington heavyweight. But the speaker could not resist one last taunt: Mr. Trump, she said almost under her breath to a scrum of reporters, could always deliver the speech from the Oval Office if he wanted.

Mr. Trump struck back in characteristic style, denying Ms. Pelosi access to a military plane to take her to Afghanistan. There was to have been a stop in Brussels, where she would have met with NATO officials.

“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Mr. Trump wrote, mimicking the faux-solicitous tone of her letter to him. “Obviously,” he added, “if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who was scheduled to accompany Ms. Pelosi to Afghanistan and Belgium, swiftly accused Mr. Trump of “fifth-grade conduct.” Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said, “He’s very childlike in his view of the world. It’s all about him.”

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from the other, more grown-up Washington, said she recognized much of the current behavior in the nation’s capital from her time as a preschool teacher. Every classroom, she said, had the full range of personalities, including bullies and victims, and the trick, she said, was not to cede to the bully or allow tantrums to disrupt the entire classroom.

“My experience is, you let them calm down and come back to you peacefully before you give them anything,” Ms. Murray said. “You don’t hand them that cookie or piece of candy when they’re yelling and screaming because then you will be doing that until they’re 18 years old.”

Ms. Murray, unsurprisingly, was generous toward her fellow Democrat, Ms. Pelosi. She likened her to a sure-footed teacher in her handling of Mr. Trump. Certainly the new speaker, who has fact-checked Mr. Trump during meetings and publicly warned him not to disparage the power of her Democratic majority, seems to have gotten under the president’s skin in a way that few others have during his two years in Washington.

Yet the tit-for-tat between the speaker and the president suggested something else: that despite his inability to change the politics or institutions of Washington, Mr. Trump has managed to change its culture. The capital now plays by his freewheeling rules.

“He does generally force people to play down to his level,” said Michael D’Antonio, a biographer of Mr. Trump. “It’s impossible to deal with him in any other way. It takes almost a Zen master to resist being provoked by him.”

There is no doubt that Trump-like behavior is proliferating. When the House freshmen, all Democrats, arrived at the office of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, on Wednesday to deliver a letter demanding that he reopen the government, they quickly discovered he was not there.

One of Mr. McConnell’s deputies, Don Stewart, accepted the letter and promised to give it to his boss. The lawmakers then milled outside Mr. McConnell’s office to plot their next move, as tourists gawked and cameras clicked, particularly at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York and a media darling.

“Oh, my God, this is your life!” Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, said to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 29, as she watched the hubbub swirling around her colleague.

It was the kind of spectacle that Mr. Trump would appreciate

This, I fear, is exactly the problem and exactly why we are facing the political situation we are in today. While it existed in official Washington for some time during the Obama Administration, especially on the Republican side, the kind of tit-for-tat brinksmanship that we are seeing right now is by and large a response to the impact that Donald Trump has had on our political culture. At first, it seemed as though it was only Republicans who were adapting Trumpian tactics in their campaigns for election or re-election. In many cases, of course, this is because they believed it would work in their primary fights in appealing to pro-Trump voters and in the General Election in getting those voters to the polls. In many cases, of course, that hypothesis proved to be correct. Beyond Republicans, though, one can see the beginnings of a gloves-off Trumpian style of politics taking shape in the Democratic Party and in the race for the Democratic nomination for President. And, of course, we can see it in the mutual tit-for-tat of the Pelosi and Trump letters. Pelosi’s letter, using the pretext of security concerns, was clearly a political move on her part designed to deny Trump a valuable political platform in the midst of the shutdown. It was also helpful in establishing her bona fides with more radical Democrats demanding a more confrontational approach with the President. Trump’s letter was obviously aimed at his base, who quickly ate it up as what they saw as another example of “owning the libs.” What both examples tell us, though, is that there is no progress in Washington on ending the shutdown and that we’re basically at the stage where the two sides are reduced to throwing sand at each other like a couple of toddlers.

As I said, all of this happens as the shutdown drags on through its twenty-eighth day, and seems guaranteed to stretch well beyond thirty days or longer. Next week we’ll reach the point where the 800,000 Federal workers impacted by the shutdown will not get paid for the second time, something that has never happened before. While Congress has passed, and the President has signed, legislation that will guarantee that they will get back pay when the government reopens, that hardly helps in the here and now and it does nothing to help government contractors and other businesses that are dependent on Federal workers or contractors in some respects. For example, Washington, D.C.’s Metro system estimates that it has lost $400,000 per day for each day of the shutdown due to lower ridership and lost fares. Additionally, restaurants in Washington are reporting sharp drops in business and that Washington has turned into a virtual ghost town thanks to the shutdown, a serious problem for an industry that typically operates on razor-thin profit margins as it is. Beyond that, there are the human stories of people facing mounting bills of all kinds and having to make personally humiliating choices like going to food banks for food for their families. All of this will continue as long as the shutdown goes on, and our leaders will continue to fail to lead.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. drj says:

    The bothsiderism in this post is strong.

    On the one hand, there is a president who is a criminal and almost certainly a Russian asset (without anyone in his party appearing to care) and on the other hand there are Democrats who are mean.

    Let’s all clutch some pearls about the lack of civility in DC.

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  2. Get out of your political bubble and talk to some real Americans who don’t obsess about politics.

    When I do, the overwhelming response I hear is “F**k `em all.”

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  3. drj says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    When I do, the overwhelming response I hear is “F**k `em all.”

    Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

    Those “real Americans” you speak of are not keepers of deep, folksy wisdom unsullied by political bubble speak, but woefully misinformed about the current state of US politics.

    Perhaps this is something to be remedied rather than to be encouraged?

    Just a thought.

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  4. KM says:

    @Doug Mataconis :

    No offense Doug but that *is* bothsiderism in play. Pretending everybody is the same and the antics of Trump are somehow equal to those opposing him is deliberate ignorance. If I’m not into football and claim that there’s no difference between the Patriots and the Browns because they all suck at playing, I’m going to get some WTF looks. Nobody’s going to claim it’s “outside the bubble wisdom” just me not paying attention but still wanting to have an opinion. I’d look like an idiot declaring Brady is as terrible a player as Mayfield because “f**k `em all, neither of them losers can play right”.

    All this kind of talk is doing is legitimizing Trump’s selfish decision to shut down the government at the last second to tilt at windmills. Of course it’s chaos – he *wanted* chaos. But he wanted targeted chaos that only hurt his enemies enough for them to come crawling back and that’s not happening. Am I unhappy with how things are going up there? Sure, most of America is. But I can’t really blame Dems for turning towards Donald’s bag of tricks if that’s what ends up working on him and his base. Trump honest to god expects people to just fold and give him what he wants. If it takes stunts to get him to understand that’s not going to happen, then dropping to his level might be worth it.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    When I do, the overwhelming response I hear is “F**k `em all.”

    My train people concur.

    @drj:

    Those “real Americans” you speak of are not keepers of deep, folksy wisdom unsullied by political bubble speak, but woefully misinformed about the current state of US politics.

    It would be nice if we could supplant “politically unaffiliated Americans who don’t follow politics” for “real Americans” but it’s a bit unwieldy in the mouth, so “real Americans” will have to do.

    Also, these people are not “misinformed” about the current state of US politics. Some of them vote, and all of them have opinions. The most misinformed people in this country are the ones who slurp up partisan commentary.

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  6. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    This is undoubtedly true.

    But, please consider how the bothsiderism in the coverage and commentary on the shutdown has shaped public opinion on the matter. “Both Parties refuse to concede to the others’ demands” or “tit for tat” is the lazy shorthand that proliferates what the news and opinion pieces are writing. But, if you objectively describe even a little more precisely the negotiating positions of the Democrats, Republicans and Trump, I don’t see how anyone can claim equivalence with a straight face. In most of your writing on the shutdown, Doug, you at least touch on these objective differences, so please don’t succumb to the glib bothsiderism in your headlines or opening/closing statements. You see the differences and it’s clear you know they matter.

    On a final side note, I don’t know that being unengaged in the political situation in the country makes an American any more “real” than someone who follows the politics closely. And I don’t believe that an outcome driven by the opinions of those in the country who are only paying a little attention to the stalemate is what will give the country what is best for governance in either the short term or long term.

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Now that we have learned that Individual-1, an un-indicted co-conspirator in an election fraud case, has also suborned perjury…
    Can we just open the fvcking Government while we await his trial???

  8. Teve says:

    I agree with Doug. Ignorant opinions are wiser than informed ones.

    #DougHasntHadHisCoffeeYet

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  9. KM says:

    @James Pearce:

    Also, these people are not “misinformed” about the current state of US politics. Some of them vote, and all of them have opinions.

    And yet none of those statements disprove the other. You can vote and be misinformed / uninformed / straight up ignorant – there’s no test or check of the veracity of “what you know” involved. Opinions are not information so you can be misinformed on facts and still be passionately opinionated. Finally, opinions are like assholes in that everyone has one so they’re not particularly special. Having an opinion doesn’t make you informed – it means you have an opinion and can’t tell the difference between that and hard facts. Not giving a f^ck to bothered to learn about politics is not a virtue “real America” should be proud of!

    @drj was warning about falling for the stereotype that “salt of the earth” people are somehow inherently wise without any sort of facts to back it up. They just “know” or “feel” based on their “common sense”… and yet somehow it’s exactly those types who traditionally fell hook, line and sinker for snake-oil con-men looking to prey on folks who rely on gut feelings rather then objective facts. When conservatives trot out “real Americans” they have a specific type of person in mind and count on that person to trust their gut over their brain.

    I grew up in a small town full of folks like your “train people” who’d self-righteously claim “common sense isn’t common” and then go right ahead and prove it. They’d vote for a local criminal republican rather then a democrat, wonder why the repub got caught stealing funds….. and then voted for him AGAIN over the dem. The excuse was liberals were all thieves and crooks like the Clintons anyways so what difference does it make? If someone was going to steal from them, might as well be a republican, you know? THAT’S bothsiderism and misinformation driving voting.

    (edited for clarity and spelling… I hope . #KMHasAlsoNotDrunkHerCoffeYet)

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  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Teve:

    I agree with Doug. Ignorant opinions are wiser than informed ones.

    And if you have any doubt, see; Pearce, James.

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  11. dennis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Morning, Doug. I understand your point, but I think Pelosi is exercising her authority as SoH as a reminder/lesson to Trump that he no longer controls all branches of government, an exercise in raw power that he understands.

    Trump is just a petty, two-bit, wanna-be-a-dictator whose moment is coming to a spectacular close. Soon. Very soon.

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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    New reporting has revealed that after Trump rescinded permission to use military aircraft, the Diplomatic Security Service actually redid the entire CODEL using commercial flights and that when the President was informed of the updated plans, he leaked those details too:

    https://twitter.com/Drew_Hammill/status/1086271188056399872

    This coy bothersiderism is grossly disingenuous when the President of the United State literally just tried to murder the Speaker of the House.

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  13. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    This isn’t the first time Trump’s blown operational security and secrecy to hell with his petty ass stunts and endangered lives. Look what happened on his last trip and what his photo ops revealed.

    I highly doubt this was an intentional act to get her, CODEL or the various service-members injured or killed. He’s just a thoughtless asshat that doesn’t bother to rub two brain-cells together when he’s in petty mode.

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @KM:

    Depraved indifference murder is still murder.

  15. Kathy says:

    Having thought about the matter, something discouraged in these days of rapid news, Pelosi erred not in needling trump, but in making it so transparent.

    She could have said it would be inappropriate to proceed with the SOTU pageant while the shut down continues, and it would be best to postpone it until things go back to normal. But, having issued the invitation, the SOTU can go on if Dennison really wants it to.

    This probably would lead to Trump carrying it out. So next what Pelosi should do is ask her side of the aisle to not attend, and instead invite a federal worker affected by the shut down to attend in their place.

    If you have the high ground, on no account should you voluntarily give it up.

  16. mattbernius says:

    @dennis:
    I think it’s partially that. I also suspect it’s an example of Pelosi being willing to take a PR hit to deliver a worse blow to Trump. To a point that James Joyner raised in a separate post, taking an audience away from Trump is something that actually hurts him on multiple levels — including taking it personally.

  17. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    And if you have any doubt, see; Pearce, James.

    Hello, Daryl, it’s me…acknowledging you as well.

    @KM:

    I grew up in a small town full of folks like your “train people”

    I seriously doubt the people in your small town are anything like my train people. And the point about politically unaffiliated voters isn’t that they don’t pay attention to this stuff, or don’t understand it, it’s that they just haven’t committed to a side.

    These are the smartest people of all. Downvote me.

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Pearce:

    My train people concur.

    The train people you overheard while they were pumping gas at a hipster coffee house?

  19. James Pearce says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The train people you overheard while they were pumping gas at a hipster coffee house?

    No, it was a TSA agent I overheard pumping gas at a hipster coffee house.

    (I don’t talk to –or listen to– the train people. It’s purely a mental exercise in empathy, not meant to glean their true views, but to remind myself that they have them.)

  20. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Get out of your political bubble and talk to some real Americans who don’t obsess about politics.

    When I do, the overwhelming response I hear is “F**k `em all.””

    You are confusing political perception with what’s going on.

    You are also not mentioning that the polls are close to 2:1, when you talk about political perception.

  21. charon says:

    As the government shutdown continues, Washington is coming to resemble a fight between toddlers. Except the toddlers have the excuse of not knowing any better.

    This bothsideserism is absurd and offensive. Here is something someone posted at Baloon Juice:

    https://www.balloon-juice.com/2019/01/18/friday-morning-open-thread-shut-shtshow/

    Trump: I just threw a sack full of kittens in to the river. Give me $50 to buy toilet paper to vandalize your house with and I promise to fish them out.

    Pelosi: Hell no! Now go get the kittens out of the river you crazy motherfucker!

    …………
    Pelosi: OK. We have all the things we need to rescue the kittens. Let’s do this.

    McConnell: Sorry. Can’t unless Trump gives the thumbs up.

    Pelosi: WTF. This was your plan.

    McConnell: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Schumer: You’re still wearing one of the customized US Senate kitten rescue squad wet suits you had made

    McConnell: Ummm.
    …………..
    AOC: If anyone finds a lost turtle, can you please return him to the US Senate?
    …………..

    Media: Day 27 of the kitten crisis. With Trump refusing to allow the kittens to be rescued and Pelosi stubbornly refusing to pay for his toilet paper, both sides are responsible for the rapidly deteriorating state of the kittens.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    When I do, the overwhelming response I hear is “F**k `em all.”

    I’m sorry, but if the general public is incapable of ferreting out what is in their own interests, I can’t help it. There ARE both a “right” side and a “wrong” side on this issue. (Hint: Which side has reneged on 3 agreements so far?) “F**k ’em all” is not the answer that will serve the interests of the general public. Not by a long shot.

  23. bookdragon says:

    @KM: I prefer to go with the Blazing Saddles quote:

    You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

    But I’ll settle for dropping ‘real Americans’ in favor of ‘irresponsible citizens’. People who have little to no interest in being engaged and aware of political issues are neglecting the civic duty necessary for maintaining a functioning democracy. In other words, they are the opposite of what the country’s founders would consider ‘real Americans’.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    ” You see the differences and it’s clear you know they matter.”
    Alas, he’s still in his “there are no reasons to vote for Democrats” period (and losing his grip fast), so try to at least understand his troubles–but I do get not empathizing with him.
    ETA:
    “Depraved indifference murder is still murder.”
    Ayup, that’s a problem all right.

  25. Gustopher says:

    @dennis: one more thing to note: this is prelude to raising the debt ceiling.

    Having the battle now, when the consequences are a government shutdown and an economic slowdown, is infinitely preferable to having the fight then, when we can crater the global economy.

    Trump has to recognize that he needs the Democrats if he wants to get anything done. He needs to live up to deals he makes. He needs to be a President for All Americans, not just “Real Americans” (and Russians).

  26. An Interested Party says:

    No, it was a TSA agent I overheard pumping gas at a hipster coffee house.

    A pity that person doesn’t realize what is really going on…but if he talks to you and people like you, it is no wonder that he doesn’t know what is really going on…

    Trump has to recognize that he needs the Democrats if he wants to get anything done. He needs to live up to deals he makes. He needs to be a President for All Americans, not just “Real Americans” (and Russians).

    You’re asking for far more than he can deliver…

  27. DrDaveT says:

    @KM:

    This isn’t the first time Trump’s blown operational security and secrecy to hell with his petty ass stunts and endangered lives.

    Oh for the good old days, when within 5 minutes of a comment like that someone would be along to post something about Hillary Clinton’s email server…

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    And the point about politically unaffiliated voters isn’t that they don’t pay attention to this stuff, or don’t understand it, it’s that they just haven’t committed to a side.

    Sorry, James — that’s crap. No “politically unaffiliated voter” with an IQ higher than a running back’s jersey number who is “paying attention to this stuff” hasn’t already committed to the “stop the Republicans now” side. That’s not partisan — I agree with you that the Democratic Party couldn’t find its way out of a soap bubble with a rake — but it’s the only fact-based position possible. One party is systematically trying to destroy America, and the other side is ineffectually trying to stop them. Your harping on the ‘ineffectual’ part used to be quaint; it long ago passed over into “aid and comfort to the enemy” territory.

  29. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    One party is systematically trying to destroy America, and the other side is ineffectually trying to stop them.

    I see two ineffectual parties who have essentially given up on attempting any kind of “good governance” and have essentially become a way for partisans to a) express grievances and b) get their way.

  30. @drj: feedblitz is a fake news outlet NO CREDIBILITY and must be DESTROYED along with their reporters. Trump is RIGHT and libs are EVIL DEMON CRATS!. GO TRUMP LETS BURY THE LEFT! PELOSI MUST DISAPPEAR !!!!!!

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    I see two ineffectual parties who have essentially given up on attempting any kind of “good governance” and have essentially become a way for partisans to a) express grievances and b) get their way.

    I know you do. I’m still trying to figure out how you can misinterpret the facts so badly. Or why you don’t seem to distinguish the cases where “get their way” means “provide useful healthcare to all Americans” versus those where it means “protect personal power and wealth”.