The #TrumpShutdown Could Last For Weeks
Christmas is behind us, but don't expect any progress when it comes to the government shutdown, which is in its fifth day.
A large swath of the federal government is shut down — and so are negotiations to reopen it.
President Donald Trump’s standoff with Democratic leaders over the border wall dragged into a third day on Monday, with no hopes on either side of a Christmas deal to break the stalemate. It’s been 48 hours since the last real discussions between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Vice President Mike Pence, and there’s growing sentiment in the Capitol that the closure could drag on until mid-January.
The president spent the day airing his grievances about the impasse on Twitter, saying he’s “waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.” And the Capitol was empty on Monday save for a quick House session and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who told everyone to prepare for a long standoff.
“This is my fifth shutdown. I’m beyond frustrated. LBJ said, ‘Sometimes you just have to hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm and just take it.’ So that’s where we are,” Roberts told reporters. “Every one of the shutdowns I’ve been associated with have not worked. And they worked to the advantage of the people that are on the other side.”
While Trump has told allies he’d be willing to come down from his demand for $5 billion in border wall money, Democrats have stood firm on $1.3 billion for fencing, consistent with current spending levels. On Saturday, Pence offered Schumer a bill to reopen the government that would provide $2.1 billion for fencing and an additional $400 million for Trump’s other immigration priorities; Democrats countered with $1.3 billion in fencing and more aid for Puerto Rico as part of a disaster package, according to a person familiar with the talks, which essentially recirculated past offers.
Senior Republicans are now looking toward January as the likely end date for the shutdown, which is affecting a quarter of the federal government. Some GOP officials now predict nothing will budge until House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes speaker; that could push the closure to early- to mid-January.
Once Pelosi takes over as speaker, she is expected to send a funding bill sans wall money to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Confident that Trump is losing the PR battle, Democrats have hardened their position, refusing to raise their $1.3 billion offer for border security. In a joint statement, Schumer and Pelosi said different White House officials are contradicting themselves in talks to end the shutdown, “making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment.”
In addition to Pence, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and adviser Jared Kushner had been leading talks with Schumer.
“Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts,” the Democrats said of Trump. “As long as the president is guided by the House Freedom Caucus, it’s hard to see how he can come up with a solution that can pass both the House and Senate.”
Democrats have also been talking to Senate Appropriations chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who attended a lunch with Trump on Saturday. Shelby and House Freedom Caucus members were among the attendees, who hoped to get on the same page with the president about getting more border security money than Democrats have offered.
The president’s allies argue that Pelosi can’t compromise until she’s speaker.
“There’s no question that her speakership seems to be in balance against border security. That’s a problem they’re going to have to solve on the Democrats’ side,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on Fox News. He implored Democrats to “meet in the middle and provide some resources for a wall and more resources for border security broadly.”
The shutdown has given Democrats another data point to portray Trump as an agent of chaos presiding over a flailing administration. In the past few days alone, the president pushed out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, drew bipartisan scorn for his decision to pull American troops out of Syria and attacked the Federal Reserve chairman for raising interest rates as the president watched the stock market plunge.
This is basically the same message we were getting on Christmas Eve, of course, which isn’t surprising since basically everyone except the President, who lamented about being alone on Christmas Eve shortly before First Lady Melania Trump arrived back in D.C. from Florida with their son Barron to spend Christmas at the House. Negotiations, such as they are, may resume today but there seems to be little incentive or indication that either side is going to back down from their current position. At this point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that the ball is basically in the court of the White House to negotiate with Democrats over the issue that continues to drive the shutdown, the fate of the President’s border wall. The President, meanwhile, has made it clear that he will not accept a deal that doesn’t include at least $5 billion in funding for his border wall, although it’s worth noting that Vice-President Pence and OMB Director and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were pedaling a possible deal that would reduce that funding to somewhere around $2 billion. Democrats, meanwhile, remain united on the idea that they will not agree to any deal that specifically includes authorization to spend any amount of money on a border wall, although they are open to spending on border security generally, which could include repairing areas of fencing that have been up since the Bush 43 Administration and earlier. Beyond that, though, Democrats have no incentive to compromise further given the fact that they’re scheduled to take control of the House of Representatives in just over a week, at which point they’ll be in a far stronger bargaining position than they are now. Furthermore, if they hold out then it’s likely that Democrats will get most if not all of what they want and that they will end up getting the political credit for ending the crisis while the President and the Republicans will end up getting the blame.
Taking all of this into account, the odds are that there will not be a settlement prior to the new Congress taking office January 3rd, and that it could take up to a week after that for the shutdown to be resolved depending on whether or not the President sees the political light or not. Given how things have gone so far, the odds are that he’ll respond to the new Congress by digging in even further in the belief that picking a fight with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats is somehow in his political interests. While that may be true among the members of his own base, but I suspect it is all just seen as political nonsense by the majority of Americans.