As of Thursday night, there are signs that the pain of this shutdown is beginning to register in the Senate, and at the White House. Both sides have much to lose by backing down, but they must both also acknowledge that this shutdown is helping nobody as critical services will begin to erode.
The White House is simultaneously pushing on two fronts: Jared Kushner is trying to “sweeten his offer” on immigration, adding “dreamer” paths to citizenship to President Trump’s rejected offer to extend DACA protections to 700,000 illegals who remain here in somewhat of a legal limbo. And the White House staff was reported to be preparing an emergency executive order to fund the wall through other appropriations, having the Army Corps of Engineers as the builder.
Signs of stress on both sides of the political aisle are evident: Sen. Cory Gardner’s spokesman told the Denver Post that the senator will side with the Democrats’ plan for a “clean funding bill.” Neither the Democrats’ bill nor the Republican version that funds the wall succeeded in clearing the 60-vote hurdle to a vote.
In reality, the end game largely rests on two individuals: President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These two have engaged in single combat, dragging the rest of the government into their game of political chicken and tit-fot-tats. It is Trump, however, who has been more reasonable in his offers. He backed down on the State of the Union, though he could have gone for a “to the people” venue like any of his rallies, destroying decades of tradition of the president’s annual speech before a joint session of Congress.
(Not everyone would mourn the loss of that particular tradition. But from Trump, this is a fairly major show of self-control in not behaving like a petulant toddler.)
Trump has also genuinely offered Democrats what they want–codified in law–with a real legal DACA, versus the one that was unconstitutionally proclaimed as an edict from then-President Obama’s pen and phone dictatorial Oval Office. Trump has backed down on having a concrete wall to a see-through steel barrier. He has scaled down the barrier to only a few hundred miles in places where the Border Patrol and experts at the Department of Homeland Security say it’s needed.
But Pelosi has remained intransigent, because she wants more than all else to beat Trump and put him in his place. Pelosi wants to spend the next two years with Trump on a leash as her pet, so he sits when she says “sit” and fetches when she says “fetch.”
The endgame for the Democrats is to stretch the shutdown as far as it can go, until vital services break down. They want to leverage the media to show TSA worker sick-outs gain critical mass. They want to show federal workers having to choose between life-saving cancer treatment and paying rent. They want to highlight a potential brain drain of federal workers as the best and brightest are lured by the private sector (more power to them!).
But let’s look further than the crass cynical politics of the day. People will remember the shutdown in a year. In two years, they’ll remember the wall, whether it was built or not. If Trump completely backs down, voters will remember that he didn’t fulfill his primary campaign promise, and that he was broken by Nancy Pelosi. He will have a hard time gaining support in 2020.
Pelosi has little to lose. She’s in charge of a largely impotent political body–a narrow lead in the lower house, with the power to obstruct but not to lead. Nancy Pelosi is no Newt Gingrich. She has no contract with America, only a cudgel for far-left activists and a strong motivation to stave off such Democratic upstarts as AOC, whose attraction lies in her glib endorsement of free-everything-with-no-price-tag communism.
The Speaker let it be known she was playing for keeps when she barred Trump from the SOTU–that was 12 days before the speech was scheduled. She let everyone know there would be no deal in January. It’s possible that the Senate can come up with a compromise, but I doubt Pelosi will allow the House to pass it.
The endgame, unfortunately, is pain.
This means it’s more likely Trump will resort to an emergency order. If that happens, he’ll be forced to sign a “clean” bill to reopen the government, and let the courts stop him while the White House and congressional leaders quietly come up with a bargain.
This is looking more and more like what will have to happen, because Pelosi is not going to allow the government to open while she thinks she can beat Trump.
The president must stand up to her and refuse to be beaten. Much, very much, depends on this.