The 115th Congress will conclude on January 2 with roughly one-fourth of the federal government shut down. The following day, the 116th Congress will be sworn in. The House will quickly elect Nancy Pelosi as its new Speaker, and approve a package of Democratic-designed rules for the chamber that will govern its operations over the next two years. And then Pelosi is expected to take the reins of the Democratic strategy for dealing with the Trump-engineered shutdown with a formal vote, as Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson explains:
House Democrats will vote Thursday, the first day of the new Congress in which they’ll be in the majority, to reopen the government with six full-year appropriations bills and a short-term continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security, according to a senior Democratic aide.
In other words, Democrats will seek to detach the border wall fight with the president from other appropriations and kick the final reckoning on border security into February. The Republican-controlled Senate is very unlikely to take up any bill that Trump hasn’t preapproved, so the shutdown will drag on. Pelosi’s repositioning as a key figure in the spending negotiations — or at present, the spending standoff — will be the main development this week. Trump and his allies are reportedly chortling over their success in overshadowing Pelosi’s big gavel-capturing moment with “their issues,” according to the Daily Beast:
Increasingly, they see an upside in forcing likely incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have to spend the first days, if not weeks, of the next Congress engaged in an argument over border wall funding rather than her preferred agenda: a mix of sweeping ethics and election reforms and congressional oversight.
As always, Trump is inclined to believe that he’s winning whenever he’s dominating discourse with his opinions and behavior, however strange and reprehensible they may seem. And he also appears to believe that an extended, nasty brawl with Pelosi — the devil figure in so many Republican midterm campaign ads earlier this year — will resolve any fears his “base” had that he would abandon the hypersymbolic if not exactly tangible border wall blueprints, as Roll Call’s John Bennett notes:
Striking a partial government shutdown-ending deal with Nancy Pelosi was always going to be difficult for Donald Trump — but then the president dug in over the weekend and made clear he is willing to endure a lengthy shutdown to placate his base….
Lawmakers involved in the talks and analysts already since the Trump-Pelosi immigration brawl could keep the Agriculture, Homeland Security, Justice, Interior departments and some smaller federal entities closed indefinitely.
Part of the problem continues to be the bizarre dialogue Trump is having with himself over the definition of “border wall,” which makes any congressional anticipation of his position on any given day almost impossible:
The fundamental political obstacle to a deal is that both sides are convinced the standoff benefits them politically. Democrats have more tangible reasons for thinking that, specifically polls that show (a) the public blames the shutdown on Trump more than on congressional Democrats, and (b) Trump’s motive for refusing a deal on his border wall continues to be unpopular.
It’s not 100 percent clear whether Trump simply does not believe such evidence, or (more likely) thinks his political standing depends more on rock-solid support from an admittedly small “base” that can be turned into a reelection coalition via the magic of luck and a Democratic opponent vulnerable to the same kind of nasty treatment he dished out to Hillary Clinton. Another theory is that he needs an angry and supportive “base” to keep the GOP in line, and thus protect him from the threat of impeachment.
In any event, with Democrats increasingly disinclined to give Trump any kind of face-saving concessions and a significant number of Trump supporters celebrating the pain he is administering to shiftless government bureaucrats, it’s likely that the shutdown will continue until empirical evidence that it’s hurting the president politically becomes irrefutable. Perhaps Trump cares enough about his congressional allies to listen to their concerns about what the shutdown is doing to their party and the country. But these concerns weren’t enough to keep him from heading down this perilous path in the first place, so don’t hold your breath.