There's a Simple Way Out of the Shutdown Democrats Could Offer Trump
They should pull a page from the Mitch McConnell playbook.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
The partial government shutdown needs to end. The longer it goes on, the worse the consequences will be, both for federal employees going without pay and trying to make ends meet, and for the country as a whole—furloughed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors, for instance, should get back on the job ASAP. Yet a Donald Trump–induced paralysis has trapped Capitol Hill in one of the longest and stupidest fights over government funding ever. During a short Wednesday meeting, the president demanded Democrats approve the funding of his much-hyped border barrier within 30 days in exchange for reopening the government. When they said no, he stormed out and tweeted about it in what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described as a "temper tantrum." Though Trump doesn't seem to have offered much in the way of anything in return for his wall, Vice President Mike Pence accused Democrats of being “unwilling to even negotiate.”
This sort of dysfunction isn't new, but the shutdown has raised the stakes on partisan sparring. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are frustrated with this state of affairs, with some Democrats wanting to give Trump his wall in exchange for something—perhaps codifying DACA, the program that protects some undocumented people brought to this country as children from deportation. And some Republicans have said they're open to ending the standoff and at least partially funding the government. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to put up for a vote any spending bill that Trump disagrees with, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn't inclined to let a wall-funding bill get through her chamber. A falsehood-filled speech from Trump Tuesday night didn't change this dynamic, and though the public seems to largely blame Republicans for the shutdown, there's polling evidence people aren't happy with Democrats either.
What's needed is a way out of this negotiating cul-de-sac, a way for both sides to save face while they end this saga and return DC to its natural state of ever-so-slightly less harmful gridlock. Fortunately, there is one: Democrats should promise to hold votes on the wall, and Republicans should accept that offer.
This may sound nonsensical, since with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans holding only a slim Senate majority, there's little chance that Congress collectively OKs the wall. But bear with me. This would be the same sort of offer McConnell gave the Democrats last year, when the opposition party refused to fund the government in an effort to force Republicans to protect DACA, which Trump has been blocked from ending by the courts. McConnell said he'd hold votes on DACA, and he did—but four different compromise packages all failed in the Senate before even getting to the House. That was the predictable outcome, but the point was that McConnell offered just enough for Democrats to agree to reopen the government without it seeming like a total capitulation. Though Schumer was criticized from his left for taking that deal, he likely realized there was no way to end the shutdown and achieve all his goals.
Pelosi could spin a similar promise, telling McConnell and Trump she'll put a series of bills on the House floor and let them succeed or fail after the government reopens, and if any of those bills pass they can go on to the Senate. Given the long history of busted immigration compromises in Congress, it's safe to assume that a DACA-for-wall swap won't get enough support to become law, but that's precisely the point. Compromise-minded legislators can vote for that deal (or a similar deal) and use it as proof that they want to Get Things Done, even while anti-wall Democrats and anti-DACA Republicans likely scuttle any such bill. As for Trump, he can brand the failure of the vote as a betrayal and use it as an excuse to go on a bunch of tweetstorms blaming Democrats for not building the wall—which is of course what he wants more than the actual wall. It's win-win-win.
Well, maybe not win-win-win for people hoping that their leaders actually engage in some substantive legislating. But unfortunately, that ship has probably sailed. The best we can hope for right now is an arrangement that reopens the government without doing too much additional harm. Even if you have low expectations for this Congress and this president, that doesn't seem too much to ask.
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