Home >News >World >Donald Trump marks year one with US government shutdown drama
One thing that could spare Donald Trump any lasting damage: if the shutdown remains brief. Congress may vote as early as this weekend to reopen the government for at least a few weeks. Photo: AP
One thing that could spare Donald Trump any lasting damage: if the shutdown remains brief. Congress may vote as early as this weekend to reopen the government for at least a few weeks. Photo: AP

Donald Trump marks year one with US government shutdown drama

Donald Trump woke up on the anniversary of his inauguration with the US government shuttered, a development that seemed almost predictable after a year of tumult in Washington

Washington: Donald Trump woke up on the anniversary of his inauguration with the federal government shuttered, a development that seemed almost predictable after a year of tumult in Washington.

“This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present," the president said on Twitter early on Saturday. He said in separate tweets that Democrats “could easily have made a deal" to avoid the shutdown but were “holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!"

The White House believes a catchy nickname—the “Schumer Shutdown"—and the fact a majority of Democrats in the Senate voted to block a stopgap spending bill will rally public opinion to Trump’s side. But early polling shows that a plurality of voters are inclined to hold the president and congressional Republicans responsible, not the Democratic minority in the Senate led by New York’s Chuck Schumer.

Trump was defiant, however, vowing not to negotiate immigration changes Democrats desire until the government reopens—while characteristically insulting his opponents.

‘Obstructionist losers’

“This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement shortly before the shutdown began. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands."

With the government shut, Trump postponed plans to spend the weekend at his Florida club. An anniversary party had been planned at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach Saturday night with tickets going for at least $100,000 a couple—a price-tag that would include a photo with the president as well as dinner.

One thing that could spare Trump any lasting damage: if the shutdown remains brief. Congress may vote as early as this weekend to reopen the government for at least a few weeks.

An extended shutdown would blunt the momentum from a tax overhaul bill that was the top achievement of his first year in office—something Trump has emphasized in his Twitter messages. It also could muddy the message of his first State of the Union address on 29 January if the White House remains mired in budget negotiations.

Plays well with base

Trump’s refusal to concede to Democratic demands that Congress rapidly enact protections for so-called Dreamers—immigrants brought illegally to the country as children—may play well with his base. But Trump’s standing with his base seems rock-solid. It’s the middle-of-the-road voters who doubt his capabilities as a leader, and shutting down the government controlled entirely by his own party will likely rekindle those questions.

Schumer said the shutdown was due to an absence of leadership by Trump. In negotiations on Friday at the White House, the Democrat said, he had “reluctantly put the border wall on the table for discussions," referring to the wall on the US border with Mexico that was the centrepiece of Trump’s campaign.

“In the room, it sounded like the president was open to accepting it," Schumer said. But afterward, he said, Trump didn’t press Republican leaders in Congress to take the deal.

Chaos unleashed

When his fellow Republicans looked to him for guidance, “the president provided none," Schumer said.

“Unfortunately, a Trump shutdown would be a perfect encapsulation of the chaos he’s unleashed on our government," Schumer said. “Instead of bringing us all together he’s pulled us apart. Instead of governing from the middle he’s outsourced his presidency to the extremes."

Democrats could share blame for the shutdown if voters conclude that the plight of the immigrants—who aren’t under imminent threat of deportation—isn’t worth the fight. A CNN poll released Friday showed 56% of Americans believe it’s more important to keep the government open than to preserve protections for the immigrants that Trump announced he’d end in September.

“Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy," Trump said in a Twitter post late Friday night.

Hashtag wars

The White House and Republicans also pushed the alliterative hashtag on Twitter, #SchumerShutdown, but other shutdown-related hashtags were more popular in the early-morning hours, led by #TrumpShutdown.

The same CNN poll found that 47% of Americans would blame Trump or congressional Republicans for the shutdown. An ABC News/Washington Post poll published earlier on Friday found a similar result, with 48% blaming Trump and his party versus 28% faulting Democrats.

The symbolism is particularly rich for Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to shake up a capital that he said had lost its way. He was in a unique position to make changes, with his Republican party controlling all of Washington for the first time in more than a decade.

Yet the shutdown is very much the product of the president’s own penchant for chaos. It was essentially cemented a week ago, after Trump blew up a potential bipartisan deal on immigration during a meeting at the White House, denigrating Haitian and African immigrants in the process and deepening mistrust among Democrats.

But that was only the most recent—and the most damaging—of the president’s actions. In December, Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi cancelled a planned meeting at the White House to discuss the spending impasse after Trump insulted them on Twitter. On Thursday, he announced on Twitter that he didn’t want children’s health insurance renewed as part of a short-term spending bill—a provision House Republicans had added to the legislation specifically to entice Democrats to vote for it.

The White House walked back that tweet later in the day, saying Trump would in fact support the bill.

The drama may simply feed public disgust with Washington—the so-called “swamp" that Trump has decidedly failed to drain.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 18% blame both sides in equal measure. The poll was conducted Monday through Thursday, before House Republicans passed stopgap legislation that would fund the government for another 30 days. GOP leaders hope that will help them deflect some of the blame onto the opposition party.

Blame game

But Schumer’s caucus are not the only lawmakers in the Senate who refused to go along with the House Republicans’ plan. Republican senators Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Jeff Flake and Mike Lee all voted against a procedural manoeuvre to consider the House bill, and John McCain is home in Arizona battling cancer.

Even some conservative House Republicans expressed doubt that their party would be able to pin blame for a shutdown on Democrats.

“It’s hard to do that, when as I understand it, there are three Republicans voting no in the Senate," said Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, hours before the Senate vote.

Furloughing federal workers would only contribute to the sense that Trump is unable or unwilling to govern—a notion that his critics say was underscored by the president’s rash tweeting and his rejection of the bipartisan immigration deal. In an acknowledgment of the image problem, the White House said parks and monuments would stay open, at least for some time, during the shutdown.

Risking growth?

Moreover, the economic impact of an extended shutdown could dampen the booming economy that’s provided one of the few bright spots for Republicans during Trump’s tumultuous first year. A shutdown that lasts a week and puts 850,000 federal workers on furlough would reduce US economic growth in the quarter by around 0.1 percentage point, according to Nancy Vanden Houten of Oxford Economics.

The stakes, for both sides, include the outcome of November’s midterm elections—and, in turn, the success of the Trump presidency.

White House officials argued that Democrats have supported short-term funding bills like the House legislation in the past. Schumer and his colleagues are “hellbent on a shutdown," legislative director Marc Short said earlier in the day on Friday.

But such arguments were deployed in the last shutdown—and Democrats aren’t persuaded they result in political punishment.

2013 shutdown

In 2013, congressional Republicans forced a government shutdown in a bid to defund the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. While former President Barack Obama railed against the impact on federal workers, Republicans went on to flip nine Senate seats and 13 House seats in the subsequent midterm elections.

Democrats argue that the issue of blame is more muddled this time. With Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell unable to deliver all of his caucus’s votes for a spending bill, Democrats believe they can frame Republican leaders as offering an unreasonable strategy even their own members can’t support.

It’s a gamble. The moment requires Democrats to essentially choose between two pillars of their political brand: protecting immigrants illegally brought to the US as children, and the broader notion they are the responsible stewards of the federal government, willing to prioritize basic economic and political stability.

Senate Republican leaders say they’re determined to force the opposition party to vote repeatedly against reopening the government, knowing that each high-profile session could spook Democrats facing tough re-election fights this year.

Five Democrats—Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and newly-elected Doug Jones of Alabama—broke ranks and supported the Republican stopgap measure in Friday’s procedural vote. Bloomberg

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