Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Why Congress does not want to deal with Trump - and should not

The shutdown is over - for now - but Senate Dems and particularly Chuck Schumer are taking heat from progressives for making a deal to end the shutdown. John Cassidy (New Yorker) informs us about how The Progressive Attacks on Senate Democrats Over the Shutdown Are Premature.

Liberal Democrats and progressive activists reacted angrily on Monday after a majority of Senate Democrats voted to enable the federal government to reopen after a three-day shutdown. “It’s morally reprehensible and it’s political malpractice,” Ezra Levin, a former Capitol Hill staffer who co-founded the anti-Trump Indivisible Group, declared. “Schumer led the [Senate] caucus off the cliff.” Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the Daily Kos, accused the Senate Democrats of aiding Republican efforts to block an immigration deal that would protect the Dreamers.

Cassidy counters:

… In their pursuit of a legislative deal for the Dreamers, Schumer and other Democratic senators took the highly contentious step of shutting down the government. If McConnell doesn’t follow through on his promises, they may well do the same thing again in three weeks’ time. Reopening the government was a tactical move, not a betrayal of the Dreamers. Whether it was the right tactical move won’t be clear for a while, but it was certainly a defensible one, especially in view of the broader political environment.

Progressives worry that Schumer and his colleagues will capitulate again in February, which could happen. But a number of things will be different then. For one thing, they will already have assured six years of funding for chip, the public health-insurance program that serves six million children. As my colleague Amy Davidson Sorkin pointed out yesterday, the inclusion of long-term funding in the new short-term spending resolution amounts to a “solid victory” for Democrats.

Understandably, many Democrats who are facing election battles in districts that voted for Trump didn’t like the way this was heading. By agreeing to a temporary funding bill and embracing a bipartisan approach, they called a halt. Come February, if the bipartisan effort fails, or Trump and Ryan continue to stonewall, they will be in position to claim the higher ground and point to the immediate harm that is about to be done to countless hardworking individuals who were brought to the United States as children, through no choice of their own, and who, in many cases, have never known another home. Polls indicate that the American public overwhelmingly favors doing something about this.

Of course, being reasonable isn’t necessarily the route to political success. The Republicans weren’t reasonable during their 2013 government shutdown, but they still picked up seats in 2014. In midterm elections, when turnout is lower than in Presidential elections, it is particularly important to enthuse the Party’s core voters. If large numbers of liberal Democrats got turned off by Schumer’s calculating approach, it would be a big blow to the Party’s hopes of regaining control of Congress.

But is that likely to happen? Only if Senate Democrats capitulate in February, when, absent more congressional action, the government will again run out of money, and the debt ceiling will also need to be raised. Schumer and his colleagues still have leverage. As the women’s marches demonstrated, animosity toward Trump and the Republicans among rank-and-file Democrats remains intense. This thing isn’t over.

As I said, Sen. Chuck Schumer is taking lots of heat, and his retraction of an offer to fund Trump’s wall is not helping, even though dealing with the White House is like negotiating with a bowl of jello. The NY Times report describes how the climate in Washington deteriorated the minute the shutdown was finished: Wall Is ‘Off the Table,’ Schumer Says, as Progress on Immigration Unravels. Here are snippets.

Further muddying the conversation, the White House refuses to acknowledge the offer that Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle have confirmed.

“Senator Schumer is trying to rescind an offer that he never made in the first place, and misled the public about,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

But Mr. Schumer said he rescinded the offer because Mr. Trump had rejected the rest of the immigration package.

“The wall offer was made as part of a broader deal. The president rejected that broader deal, so the offer is off the table,” Mr. Schumer said.

[Senator Lindsey] Graham said he had a message for the administration. “To my friends at the White House: You’ve been all over the board,” he said. “You haven’t been a reliable partner, and the Senate is going to move. Please be constructive as we go forward. If you’ve got any ideas, let us know, but the Senate is going to lead on this issue.”

One outstanding question is what role Mr. Trump will play in any DACA negotiations; the president has been unclear about what he wants, and senators have said that until he makes his wishes known, it will be difficult to reach an agreement.

The thing is, Graham and other lawmakers keep looking to Trump for leadership. They’ve got to get a grip. Trump is the master of nothing other than The Art of No Deal. Trump brags about his dealmaking experience but the truth of it is that, as Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) explains, Trump was never a great dealmaker, anyway. Here are snippets.

Among the many ironies, some would say falsities, inherent in President Trump’s image of a successful real estate tycoon is that management and dealmaking have never been his strong suits.

Trump University, casinos, vodka, steaks, a new football league … the list of failures is long. And it was his financial debacles of the 1990s that some would say brought him into the circle of suspicious money men, foreign banks and Russian oligarchs to bail him out. His “deal” was declaring bankruptcy, leaving creditors and employees hanging, and having to be put on a monthly allowance by banks.

Rather than his dealmaking prowess, Trump’s career was saved, one could argue, by foreign money. (His “The Art of the Deal” book should include a chapter on “How to get Russians to give you money when U.S. banks won’t.”) What success he had in bargaining — chiseling contractors, stiffing lawyers — tended to be where he had all the leverage while the other side had none. That makes him a first-class bully, not a brilliant dealmaker. (If the dossier and other sources are to be believed, his current operations such as golf courses aren’t making money. They were bad deals, I suppose.)

In other words, the false promise of business acumen — as Trump critics pointed out in the campaign — did not suggest he’d do any better than professional politicians in striking deals. And in fact, his willful ignorance about policy (at least he presumably knew something about real estate when he was in that industry) has shown him to be a whole lot worse than recent presidents. He’s best at selling himself and whatever he’s hawking (vodka, casinos, steaks) with empty rhetoric (the same he uses to describe legislative bills he does not understand — “fabulous” or “some say the greatest”). But that does not translate into policy compromises or political trade-offs.

Weak on substance, his aides boss him around; Republicans have learned that his word is meaningless. Whatever complex issues absorb Congress this year — defense spending, immigration, healthcare, infrastructure — better be managed without much White House input. The more involved he is, the less likely there will be a deal. The great disrupter can create chaos and controversy, but the harder task of negotiating policy compromises eludes him.

So if Congress has any hope of getting its act together on immigration (or anything else), they should keep the 239-pound gorilla out of the room. (With apologies to old-world primates.)

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