A few thoughts on the looming shutdown:
There’s been a lot of debate over who’s to “blame” for a shutdown (this is a particularly good piece on the subject by Dylan Scott). But I am not sure the question of who is to blame for a shutdown will answer the question of who wins a shutdown, assuming anyone does. Both sides will think their opponents are to blame. The side that wins is the side that can endure the aftermath and frame a deal.
Republicans have a natural advantage in a shutdown because they care less how well the federal government works, and the parts of government they care most about — like the military and immigration enforcement — are exempted.
But Republicans are at a disadvantage in this particular case because their position is extremely unpopular — not only do 87 percent of Americans support letting DREAMers stay in the US, but President Trump and congressional Republicans have said, over and over again, that they agree! It is hard to defend continuing a shutdown in order to block a policy you say you want.
The other big problem for Republicans is that everything Trump says every single day of the shutdown will be disastrous for them. Days before a possible shutdown, Trump sent an early-morning tweet that upended the GOP negotiating position on the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This was mere days after he reversed himself and destroyed the deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. How Republicans think they’ll manage a shutdown when they can’t manage Trump’s Twitter feed or even predict his shifting views is beyond me. He might wake up one morning and undercut them completely, and they know it.
In my reporting, I’m surprised by how angry members of Congress are at the endless use of continuing resolutions to fund the government, rather than real appropriations bills. “There’s a level of embarrassment about the ability of the United States Congress to do its job,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, told Vox. “We’re signaling defeat once again with the CR.”
Absent the DREAMer fight, I doubt there’d be a shutdown. But the anger over CRs is making a lot of Democrats, and even some Republicans, feel better about a shutdown, and a lot worse about just kicking the can down the road again.
The Republican argument has become that Democrats must pass their spending bill to save CHIP. “Do not jeopardize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” House Speaker Paul Ryan begged Democrats. I don’t know that I have ever seen anything as cynical in American politics as Republicans spending four months refusing to reauthorize CHIP, then attaching its reauthorization to a stalled spending bill, and now saying it’s Democrats who are blocking CHIP’s reauthorization. Ryan and Mitch McConnell could bring a clean CHIP reauthorization to the floor today and every Democrat would vote for it. There is a breathtaking cruelty in treating health care for children this way.
Speaking of strange claims, Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, came out against the CR and then flipped his position last night. He says he received a promise that the House would move a full defense appropriations bill shortly. Given that his colleagues Susan Collins and Jeff Flake were bought off on the tax bill with similar promises that never came true, I wonder why Rounds thinks this time will be different.
I don’t pretend to know how a shutdown will play out. But I’ll admit I’m unnerved to see not just Trump, but McConnell and others, begin to refer to the core issue as “illegal immigration” — the more they define DREAMers as illegal immigrants and a DACA deal as amnesty, the harder it will be for them to back down and eventually cut that deal.
In my discussions with Hill Democrats, I am not at all sure they have an endgame here — they don’t want to vote for a bill that excludes DREAMers, but many are uncertain a shutdown will actually help DREAMers. I recommend reading Andrew Prokop’s look at the cases for and against a shutdown, and reflecting on this quote from a Democratic Senate aide: “Does anybody think Trump gives a shit about a shutdown? He does not give a shit. His base will be fired up.” Will that make it easier or harder for Trump to ultimately sign DREAMer protections into law?
This, in the end, is where we are: Republicans control the government and say they want a DACA deal. Democrats are willing to do a DACA deal that includes heavy concessions on immigration policy, border enforcement, and Trump’s wall. The two sides even drew up a bipartisan agreement. Trump rejected it, because though he pretends he wants a DACA deal, he is actually driving toward a much more racist and uncompromising form of immigration policy, one for which no legislative compromises are obviously possible.
Taken in its entirety, the “shithole shutdown” is the perfect encapsulation of governance in the Trump era: dysfunction and chaos driven by anger and fear toward America’s changing demographics, and the congressional GOP’s cowardly acquiescence to Trump’s ever-shifting demands.