No End In Sight

[ Posted Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 – 16:51 UTC ]

President Donald Trump held a meeting today with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It was as pointless as the last few meetings between the three, from all accounts. Reportedly, after Pelosi made her case for opening the government but only extending the budget for the Department of Homeland Security for another month -- to give both sides time to have the border wall fight without penalizing all the federal workers -- Trump asked her point-blank whether she would agree to his wall money in 30 days or not. She said "No," and Trump got up and walked out of the meeting. Which is why the word "pointless" is hard to avoid.

Trump reportedly has staked his entire presidency on the wall issue. He thinks (and he may be right) that if he doesn't get the wall at least partially built then he won't have a chance at a second term, because his base will desert him in 2020. So for him, it's a crucial fight to have. It's almost as important for Pelosi and the Democrats to hold firm, because giving in to Trump's demand now -- right after a very successful midterm election for the Democrats -- would signal that Trump is going to push Pelosi around for the next two years. That would be exactly the wrong signal to send, from the viewpoint of the Democratic base. Added to this brinksmanship is the fact that the State Of The Union address is now less than three weeks away. Whatever happens between then and now is doubtlessly going to be the primary subject of both the president's speech and the Democratic response. This ups the political stakes, since it is the one night a year that Americans are forced to pay attention to Washington politics in a big way.

Because the two sides' positions are not just diametrically opposed, but impossible to reconcile in any way (Trump either gets his wall money or he doesn't -- there's no real middle ground there), it's hard to see how this all ends, or how long it will take to resolve. There's no obvious offramp for either side, at this point.

In most shutdown situations, public opinion eventually forces one side or another to realize that the people are simply not behind them, and they usually react accordingly (because they're worried about the next election). This may not be possible with Trump, because he just flat-out doesn't believe any poll that doesn't tell him what he wants to hear. He is absolutely convinced that: (1) this is a winning argument for him, (2) the longer it goes on, the stronger his position becomes, and (3) if he caves, he will not win re-election. So he's got every reason (according to his logic, of course) not to give in no matter how long the shutdown lasts.

Republicans in Congress aren't quite as oblivious to public opinion, though. Short of either Trump or Pelosi caving (which would end things pretty quickly, either way), there are really only two ways this fight ends. The first would be if Senate Republicans get so nervous about how it's all playing out that they pressure Mitch McConnell to hold votes on the bills to reopen the government. Already, over in the House, Republicans are breaking ranks. Eight GOP House members just voted for a bill today to reopen the Treasury Department, so that the I.R.S. will be fully-staffed in time for income tax filing season. That's a start, but it's not enough.

If Trump sticks to his guns and refuses to sign any legislation without his wall money, then there is only one route left for Congress to get the government open again, and that is to override a presidential veto. To do so requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress. This would mean 290 votes in the House, and 67 votes in the Senate. The Treasury budget bill just got 240 votes, meaning Democrats would still have to convince 50 more Republicans to get on board. In the Senate, Democrats would need 20 Republicans to break ranks, and so far only three of them have indicated a willingness to do so. This leaves a rather large deficit of votes in both chambers in terms of putting together a veto-proof majority. However, the more time goes by and the more paychecks missed, the higher the pressure is going to become on Congress to resolve the mess with or without Trump. The big question now is whether that pressure will cause Republicans to change their stance, or Democrats. Even if the answer is eventually a Republican shift, it will likely take a while for them to get to the point of openly defying their president.

The other way the impasse could end seems rather drastic, but it may turn out to be the fastest way to sidetrack the issue. Trump has been flirting with declaring the border situation a national emergency, which would give him the authority to order the military to build the wall. If this is the route he takes, it would mean he would likely end his resistance to passing the budget bills necessary to open the government again, so the hostage-taking would end and federal workers could get paid.

While this would indeed solve the shutdown problem, it would open up a whole other can of worms, because Trump's national emergency declaration would immediately be challenged in court. This could mean a constitutional crisis. Would the courts even want to intervene in such a political fight? What would Congress do? If the courts even temporarily block Trump from starting wall construction, would he just ignore their order and go ahead and tell the military to start building anyway? Would the military consider such an order legitimate or not? As you can see, the Constitution would be tested in ways it hasn't been for decades (if not centuries).

Because it is almost impossible to predict what Donald Trump will do next, it's hard to see how this is all going to end. It is Richard Nixon's "Madman Theory" come to life in a horrifyingly real sense. Trump's position really makes no sense, because he's had two full years with Republicans in control of Congress and he couldn't get his wall money then, so why does he think he can now with the Democrats in a much stronger position? Democrats are in no mood to give in to Trump, which is entirely reasonable since they just won an election that Trump specifically made all about immigration. Why should they cave, when it is so obviously a losing issue for Republicans?

The truly dangerous thing is how much fun Trump seems to be having in the meantime. He's on television non-stop, he is driving the news cycle each and every day, and therefore Nancy Pelosi can't get any traction for the Democratic agenda she's been introducing in the House (she just filed a bill to mandate universal background checks for gun purchases, but this and all the other issues House Democrats are pushing are taking a back seat to the shutdown fight). As far as Trump is concerned, that's a win-win situation for him. As long as he keeps Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh happy, Trump is happy with how he's being presented in the right-wing media.

For now, though, there seems to be no end in sight. Getting a veto-proof majority behind the budget bills in Congress will likely take a whole lot of polls showing Republicans being hurt politically, which probably means a few more weeks of inaction. And then there's the State Of The Union to get through, when neither side is going to want to give the other a victory. What it all means is that we could be in for a very long shutdown, because at this point it doesn't look like there's any light at the end of the tunnel yet.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “No End In Sight”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    this is the perfect crisis to resolve using a big, beautiful, thirty-foot high pie. donald can have the first bite and call it a win.

  2. [2] 
    goode trickle wrote:


    Pie will never work for this problem.... Donald is firmly in the pocket of big Ice Cream.

    I hear the big D's favorite late night two scoops is collusion Crunch.

  3. [3] 
    neilm wrote:

    The Democrats should shout loudly about how Trump better "dare not declare a national emergency", with a few challenges to his manhood ("he doesn't have the balls to do it", "he can bully his staff, but he can't push us around 'cos he'll never declare a national emergency", etc.) and push him into the choice.

    Otherwise flying is going to be a nightmare.

  4. [4] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    On a more serious note...

    So here I am again carrying US government debit (well more like the company I contract with) under the terms of the contract we are required to support the Coast Guard, they will pay us eventually, but we will carry their debit and also pay interest on monies we have put out thus resulting in losses on the contract that we will not be reimbursed for.

    It also will mean that next month when we cross the 500k debit threshold the company will start dragging it's feet on my expense reimbursements, which means I will be losing money personally as well and ultimately could lead to me working without pay as well. it happened last time...

    If the Dems wanted to put some pressure on the GOP they should pass a standalone bill, NOW, mandating that back pay will be guaranteed for all personnel affected by the shut down as well as paying clearly documented financial penalties for them. They should also mandate that the interest clock starts ticking for contractors required to provide services to departments during a shutdown. If the GOP votes against that it will truly show where their feelings lie.

  5. [5] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    One way to end the shutdown is for the media to shutdown coverage of the shutdown.

    This is just a show to galvanize the bases and provide a distraction and excuse to not do anything else.

    Instead of covering every little tweet or statement and all the obligatory stories on how the shutdown is affecting people (and how it will benefit one party or the other), just give a quick update once a week (for you, maybe in FTP).

    For the rest of the week instead of trying to spin for one party or the other, the media could say the two party system itself is to blame for the shutdown so the rest of the week will be devoted to informing citizens aboot alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans.

  6. [6] 
    ericksor wrote:

    Sorry, Don. You're not living in the real world.

    The media have their own drivers -- the broadcast minutes and column inches need to be filled to sell the advertising to pay the salaries of editors, reporters and management. And each outlet is competing against every other one to get the story out first.

    Those two factors mean the media -- mainstream and fringe -- will never stop covering the news. And, as painful as it is sometimes, the fact is they -- including CW -- shouldn't stop doing their jobs.

  7. [7] 
    John M wrote:

    [3] neilm

    "The Democrats should shout loudly about how Trump better "dare not declare a national emergency", with a few challenges to his manhood ("he doesn't have the balls to do it", "he can bully his staff, but he can't push us around 'cos he'll never declare a national emergency", etc.) and push him into the choice."

    The problem with declaring a "national emergency" is that: leaders declaring emergencies to “go around the usual legal processes” is usually the first step in “what happens in authoritarian countries,” that have lost their democracy and freedom, as CNN's Jeffrey Toobin pointed out.

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Goode trickle-2

    You are quite right about that. Among the rough and tumble pushcart ice cream vendors of NYC Trump is known as Donny Two Scoops. Those who mess with the frozen mob tend to end up in the East River wearing a pair of cement filled ice cream buckets As the "wise guys" put it: "Dez Baskin' wit duh Robins."

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    Did somebody say "I scream"!?

    Oh, boy! Sounds like Mikey Cohen will be singing in public. A little rough around the edges, but otherwise a very nice singing voice. I highly recommend the inimitable Mr. Cohen.

    Get your popcorn ready. :)

  10. [10] 
    neilm wrote:

    John M [7]

    I take your point, but this is America and we don't like kings. The more he acts like a little dictator, the more likely he is to get the boot in 2020. Then the Democratic President can declare a one day national emergency and repeal everything he has done using emergency powers.

  11. [11] 
    Kick wrote:


    Neil is right since Trump's only way out of this BS now is actually to declare a "national emergency." He's laying the groundwork for it now by having his aides talk about a "humanitarian" and "national crisis." It's really the only move he has left and then allow the Senate to reopen the government and claim a false victory.

    The only real question remaining is: Will PT declare a "national emergency" before January 23... National Pie Day?

    I think he definitely will. Donald can't compete with pie, so he'll definitely want to take away its thunder. :)

  12. [12] 
    Kick wrote:



    There is no crisis on the southern border.


    Friends always,


  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @kick [11],

    yes! that's exactly what i'm talking about! republicans and democrats are shutting down the government to intentionally undermine the political importance of pie!


  14. [14] 
    neilm wrote:

    Out there prediction:

    Shutdown ends on Feb 7th when Trump declares National Emergency.

    Feb 7th is the day Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify, in public and broadcast live on every network, to Congress.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    at this point, perhaps not so far out there.


  16. [16] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    You can believe what you want to believe, but the media continuing to "do their job" in reality is not covering the news. What they are doing is covering the show as if it were real news.

    If they were doing the job of covering the news they would be reporting on how the show is bullshit and would be informing citizens aboot alternatives to the Deceptocrats and RepubliCONS instead of perpetuating the lie.

  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:


    That's an astute prediction. Trump "governs" on the basis of news cycles.

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