Sunday, January 27, 2019

Pelosi hero and winner, Trump villain and loser at end of pointless shutdown

Scriber suspects that many of you do not subscribe to the New Yorker email newsletter. Scriber does. So, here is part of John Cassidy’s summary of the last week’s events. The focus is on who got what out of the government shutdown, its beginning and its end.

If you are strapped for time, I’ll help out by listing winners and losers.

The list of losers includes:

  • government workers and their worry and stress
  • consumer confidence
  • America’s reputation
  • American air travel - a near miss triggering panic
  • Donald Trump’s approval - now at an historic low
  • Donald Trump’s standing amongst conservatives, like the Coultergeist
  • Donald Trump - who took to the podium to offer an alternative definition of “concession”

The list of winners includes:

  • Nancy Pelosi

So what, finally, brought and end to the pointless shutdown? Cassidy quotes the New York Daily News: Trump’s "agreement with Democrats to end the punch-yourself-in-the-face government shutdown was a complete capitulation, brought on in a panic when the gears of American air travel began grinding to a halt.”

Mr. and Mrs. Scriber traveled last week and noted the large number of empty airplane seats. It seemed to us that the gears were already grinding to a halt.

Contrary to its presentation by Trump, there was no deal. Just defeat for President Chaos.

Even by the unequalled standards of Donald Trump’s Presidency, Friday was an epic news day. It began with a heavily armed team of F.B.I. agents arresting Roger Stone, who is arguably Trump’s oldest political associate, at his home in Fort Lauderdale, and it ended with the President signing a short-term funding bill and officially bringing to an end the longest government shutdown ever, which began five weeks ago, on December 22nd. In reporting the bill signing, Friday night, on Twitter, Mark Knoller, a White House correspondent for CBS News, noted, “Depts and agencies expect to handout back pay checks early next week.”

That will be a relief to the roughly eight hundred thousand federal workers who have been furloughed or working without pay, as well as the millions of Americans who depend on or utilize government services, such as national parks, statistical agencies, and farm-service centers. According to an estimate from Standard & Poor’s, which was published Friday, the direct monetary cost of the shutdown was about six billion dollars, but that doesn’t include all the worry and stress inflicted on the affected workers and their families, the hit to consumer confidence in the broader economy, or the damage to the reputation of the United States—all of which were considerable.

These costs raise the question of why Trump provoked the shutdown in the first place and what, if anything, he got out of it. In a column, on Friday, I argued that he got virtually nothing, and the entire thing served only to educate him about “how futile government shutdowns are, and how constricted Presidential power is when the opposition party controls at least one house of Congress.” I also argued that the fact that Trump was forced to capitulate in the face of public anger and rising discontent among elected Republicans demonstrated that “Trump is also just a regular politician, subject to the normal laws of political gravity.”

There were lots of other instant takes, of course, almost all of them critical of Trump. The front-page headline on Saturday’s edition of the New York Daily News was “cave man.” Inside the paper, an editorial said, “The man whose name graces the cover of ‘The Art of the Deal” called it a compromise, but let’s be clear: His agreement with Democrats to end the punch-yourself-in-the-face government shutdown was a complete capitulation, brought on in a panic when the gears of American air travel began grinding to a halt.”

What was more disturbing to Trump, probably, was a lot of criticism of him from the right. The columnist Ann Coulter called him the “biggest wimp ever to serve as President,” and a number of conservative news sites headed their coverage with similarly damning headlines to the ones appearing in the mainstream press. A piece in the Washington Post listed some of them: the Daily Caller and the Gateway Pundit both wrote, “trump caves,” and Breitbart wrote, “government open … and border … no wall.”

On Friday evening, Trump tried to push back against all the criticism and suggested, as he had in his speech earlier in the day from the Rose Garden, that he was prepared to invoke a national emergency if talks between the Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill didn’t produce some funding for his border wall. “I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall,” he tweeted. “This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

A few conservative outlets did take a more balanced view of Friday’s developments. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal called the shutdown a “fiasco,” and it also cast doubt on the feasibility of Trump using the national-emergency escape route to get his wall built, noting that it would quickly be enjoined by the courts and would also divide Republicans more than Democrats. But the editorial board also suggested that Trump could escape from the bind that he is in by broadening the compromise offer he put forward last weekend “to include a path to citizenship for all Dreamers.” The goal would be to “persuade Dreamers and voters that Mrs. Pelosi is now the obstacle to a reasonable immigration compromise.” In order to do this, Trump would need to sideline Stephen Miller, his hard-line adviser on immigration, and “turn the negotiations over to someone who really does want to make an immigration deal. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is the voice to listen to here.”

We’ll have to wait and see what happens between now and February 15th, when the temporary spending resolution runs out, but political analysts are already assessing the damage that Trump has done to himself over the past few weeks, which have seen his approval ratings dip considerably. In a piece that dubbed him the “Chaos president,” Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman, of the Los Angeles Times, suggested that the President was now starting to pay the political price for his chronically disorganized style, and that he could suffer permanent damage. “We’re in a period where how he acts and what he says is being viewed much more critically in light of the shutdown and the changing economy,” Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster, told the paper. “Instead of being the hero for ending the shutdown, he’s seen as the villain for starting it.”

In addition to agreeing that Trump had misplayed his hand, the punditocracy was united in declaring Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, as the big winner. CNN’s Chris Cillizza argued that Pelosi basically out-Trumped Trump. “What Pelosi seems to understand better than past Trump political opponents is that giving any ground is a mistake,” Cilliizza wrote. “You have to not only stand firm, but be willing to go beyond all political norms—like canceling the [state of the union] —to win. Which is what Pelosi did this week.”

Vox’s Ezra Klein noted that throughout the shutdown Pelosi skillfully held together the Democratic caucus, “creating a united front that offered Trump few avenues of egress.” Klein added that Pelosi also baited Trump into making mistakes, especially when she and Chuck Schumer got him to take ownership of the shutdown even before it started. “You don’t hear many House Democrats these days grumbling about Pelosi’s leadership,” Klein wrote. “But you hear plenty of Republicans lamenting Trump’s.”

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