No one had any reason to expect significant progress in border wall/government shutdown negotiations in the wake of last night’s Oval Office address from the president warning the country of evil immigrants pouring over the border to murder innocent people and pillage the land. But things deteriorated really quickly, as the Washington Post reported:
Talks between President Trump and congressional Democrats aimed at ending a partial government shutdown collapsed in acrimony and disarray Wednesday, with the president walking out of a White House meeting and calling it “a total waste of time” after Democrats rejected his demand for border wall funding.
The surrounding dynamics were pretty bad. Pelosi mocked Trump for failing to show any sympathy for the federal workers and contractors being hurt by the shutdown:
“He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an implicit dig at Trump’s wealthy upbringing.
And Trump had this to say on Twitter:
As Politico reports, Trump maintained his my-way-or-the-highway posture in a meeting with his own congressional allies:
The president also remained equally defiant in a lunchtime huddle with Senate Republicans on Wednesday, insisting GOP lawmakers are unified behind him even as some GOP senators push for the shutdown to end. Taken together, the two meetings suggest that the government shutdown, already on its 19th day, could drag long into January. The longest shutdown in recent history was 21 days in the 1990s.
Aside from that data point, and the steadily increasing human suffering it involves, Senate Democrats are filibustering everything that Mitch McConnell brings to the floor until such time as a House-passed bill to reopen the government, pending additional border-wall negotiations, receives a vote. So one way of viewing today’s drama is that Trump is going through the motions of a conventional food fight with Democrats before reaching for his not-so-secret weapon:
Both Democratic and Republican sources questioned the episode Wednesday afternoon, wondering if Trump had staged the entire meeting to try to make Democratic leaders look unreasonable and better position himself to make an emergency declaration in the coming days.
Short of compromising, which he seems less and less inclined to do, the emergency declaration option, for all its legal and political uncertainties, may be the only way Trump can back his way out of the government shutdown he triggered after losing his temper at a December 11 meeting with “Chuck and Nancy,” and then getting trashed by conservative media when he tried to creep away from his belligerent position. It would let him declare victory after unilaterally ordering the redirection of Pentagon money for border wall construction, then magnanimously let the government reopen. That’s assuming the courts let him get that far before hauling his administration into the dock, and fellow Republicans don’t freak out at the potential abuses of power the declaration could make possible.
Whether it’s a good idea or not, Trump seems to be working quickly to dynamite any other paths out of the morass. There’s quite an irony, though: Having signally failed in his big speech to convince anyone other than his “base” that there’s any sort of real emergency on the southern border, the president will now simply declare one. It’s quite a good fit for Trump’s imperial temperament.