Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An "embarrassing surrender" may avert a government shutdown

We’re counting the days to government shutdown. Monday the Senate returned. Tuesday (today) the House returns. That leaves Wed, Thurs, Fri, for Congress to act. If not, then boom - on the occasion of Trump’s 100th day in office - the government stops. What a big, beautiful accomplishment that would be. But here’s a new development.

From all reports I’ve seen, the Democrats and Republicans were well on their way to agreeing to a spending bill that would keep the government running past this Saturday. Then, Trump gummed up the works by insisting that any spending bill include funds for his “beautiful” border wall. And then his budget director jumped in with a proposal to trade a dollar of ACA subsidies for a dollar in border wall funding. The Dems told the administration to go jump in a swamp.

Trump’s hardball play seems about to fizzle. That’s good news for keeping the country running, but bad news for the credibility and reputation of our president. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that To prevent a shutdown, Trump begins an embarrassing surrender

Just last week, Donald Trump’s White House tried to play a little hardball. With a government-shutdown deadline looming, Team Trump sent word to Capitol Hill that the president expects any spending bill to include taxpayer money for a border wall. Since there was no chance Democrats would agree to such a demand, it meant one of two things would happen.

Either Trump would shut the federal government down on Friday at midnight, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration, or Trump would surrender, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration.

The president has apparently chosen the latter.

President Donald Trump has indicated that he’s willing to back away from his demand that a government funding bill include money to build a wall on the Southern border, a move that could help clear the way for Congress to avoid a shutdown.

A senior administration official tells NBC News that the president is open to obtaining funding for the border wall in the regular appropriations process for 2018 later this year instead of insisting it be included as part of the large spending bill to keep the government’s lights on past this week.

According to a Washington Post report, the president personally hosted a private meeting with some conservative media figures yesterday afternoon and told them he’s prepared to delay funding for the wall “until September.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters yesterday. “The president is working hard to keep the government open.” And by “working hard,” Mnuchin apparently meant, “crawling away from the corner he backed himself into without any plan for success.”

Democrats are likely to agree to some new funding for border security, in the form of investments in “technology and border agents,” and it’s easy to imagine the president pretending that this is money for some kind of symbolic, metaphorical wall, but let’s not play games: Trump and his team effectively told Democrats, “Allocate money for the wall or else.” Calling the White House’s bluff, Democrats replied, “No.”

And in response, Team Trump blinked.

For a guy who billed himself as a world-class expert in negotiations, the president is remarkably bad at this. It was painfully obvious from the start that this strategy would fail, but Trump and his aides pursued this gambit anyway.

The fact that the White House took one posture last week, only to take a more conciliatory line this week, doesn’t count as a flip-flop, per se. It’s actually something far worse: it’s an example of Trump talking tough, only to quit when the pressure rose and no one much cared about his chest-thumping.

For a fairly new and unpopular president, developing a reputation for failing to follow through on threats will carry consequences. Trump said he desperately needed a Muslim ban. He vowed to unveil a cybersecurity plan. He swore his voter-fraud commission would tackle important work. He’d demand an up-or-down vote in the House on the American Health Care Act. He’d label China a currency manipulator. Each of these commitments were either ignored or forgotten about by an easily distracted president who, everyone now knows, doesn’t always mean what he says.

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy is known for having said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Donald Trump’s maxim appears to be, “Speak bigly and carry a small golf club.”

However, watch what else is going on this week. Consider a meeting of the ambassadors of the United Nations Security Council and then a closed-door briefing of the entire US Senate by Trump and senior military leaders. If anything the discrepancy between words and action described by Benen put pressure on Trump to do something meaningful to follow through on his rhetoric on North Korea. That’s worrisome. All the players must believe that if North Korea starts something we will finish it. Having a president whose follow-through is in doubt could lead to serious miscalculation.

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