When the president, after an hour’s delay, spoke from the White House today, there was plenty of actual news on which his views would have been welcome. North Korea tested another ICBM. The GOP tax bill cleared an important hurdle after Trump met with Senate Republicans and apparently cut deals. And fears of a government shutdown, perhaps as early as December 8 when the current stopgap spending deal expires, had spiked after POTUS took to Twitter to insult the two Democratic congressional leaders he was supposed to begin negotiating with today, and those same congressional leaders promptly boycotted the meeting.
Instead of addressing the substance of any of these three topics, Trump turned the entire White House appearance into a Chuck-and-Nancy-bashing session. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room separated from human props Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan by empty chairs set for Schumer and Pelosi, Trump made it all about those losers. The North Korea missile launch was a reminder that Democrats didn’t want to increase defense spending (which will be a major topic of negotiation if and when spending talks get started). The tax bill developments just provided an opportunity for Trump to accuse Democrats of wanting to raise taxes. And rather than laying down some initial negotiating position (much less offering an olive branch) for the spending talks, Trump repeated his tweeted insults about Democrats being soft on crime and wanting to open the borders.
You have to figure McConnell and Ryan shared a sheepish smile, or maybe a pointed joke at POTUS’s expense, after being used for an idiotic photo op. If there was any point to the exercise other than pure petulant childishness, it might have been to begin the blame game over a possible government shutdown. And quite frankly neither side is distinguishing itself with grown-up behavior when it comes to getting to the inevitable spending agreement, instead exchanging in playground taunts and gestures. Today’s exchanges not only add to the risk of a damaging shutdown, but make another stopgap agreement to allow time for negotiations less likely. Democrats do have some leverage over a spending bill, and should not be reluctant to use it. And Trump will ultimately have to sign legislation to fund the government. But it’s awfully early in the process for either party to burn bridges.