The president does have an uncanny sense of bad timing on occasions. Even as congressional Republican leaders entered white-knuckle time with a complex proposal to get a spending bill through both Houses and avoid a January 19 government shutdown, Trump took to Twitter to knock down one of the props supporting the shaky strategy:
House Speaker Paul Ryan had nestled a six-year extension of funding for the very popular Children’s Health Insurance Program — which received a temporary infusion of cash in the last stopgap spending bill in December — as part of his plan to “jam” Senate Democrats into supporting a new short-term spending plan that is otherwise skewed to the priorities of Republicans. Recent controversies over CHIP that kept it from being reauthorized on time have melted away as CBO has estimated it won’t cost anything (thanks to the interaction between CHIP and an Obamacare program that’s more expensive after recent GOP sabotage efforts), which means Republicans are no longer demanding offsets for CHIP money. So CHIP provides a decent excuse for some Senate Democrats to vote for the spending package, despite the absence of relief for Dreamers, and also a nasty little talking point against Democrats in either chamber who vote against the package: They care more about illegal immigrants than about your kids!
Someone should have explained all this to the president. It was hard to tell from his tweet whether he didn’t realize the CHIP funding extension was for six years, or whether he didn’t understand Ryan’s strategy, or whether he sincerely thought CHIP should be held back as something with which to “jam” Democrats next month when the final spending deal is cut.
But in any event, as consternation spread around Washington over the tweet, the White House tersely let it be known that it supported the spending bill after all:
“The President supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job and provide full funding of our troops and military with a two year budget caps deal. However, as the deal is negotiated, the President wants to ensure our military and national security are funded. He will not let it be held hostage by Democrats.”
The statement didn’t address the fact that it was Trump himself who appeared to be holding CHIP hostage just hours earlier.
In any event, it looks like this is just another incident of presidential malfeasance, similar to last week’s unfortunate Trump tweet blasting FISA that very nearly unraveled a carefully constructed deal over surveillance practices.
At a moment when Congress is very close to letting the government close, an event that could have terrible repercussions for the president’s party, he just made everyone’s job a lot harder. Paul Ryan must be beside himself.