Congress has scheduled only 12 working days in September. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman recently laid out the disaster-in-the-making that the month of September may bring. Republicans are heading for a hellish month. Trump will only make it worse.
Even in the best of circumstances, it would be an incredibly difficult challenge. But it will be made even harder by the fact that the person who should be their greatest asset — the president — is in fact their greatest impediment.
Here’s a quick list of what Republicans are facing over the next six weeks:
- If Congress doesn’t pass a budget bill by the end of September, the government will shut down.
- If Congress doesn’t pass an increase in the debt ceiling by the end of September, the United States will default on its debts, potentially triggering a global financial crisis.
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which insures about 9 million children, needs to be reauthorized by the end of September.
- The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) needs to be reauthorized by the end of September.
- Republicans want to pass sweeping tax reform as soon as possible.
- The White House still wants to pass an infrastructure bill.
- Many Republicans in Congress still want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and conservatives in the House are attempting to force a vote on full repeal, reigniting the debate that was so disastrous for them.
How is President Trump confronting this set of challenges?
Last Tuesday in a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump Threatened a Government Shutdown:
Trump threatened to force a federal government shutdown unless a spending bill that must be signed into law by the final minute of Sept. 30 includes monies for his desired U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“Build that wall,” Trump told supporters in the Phoenix convention center.
“Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it,” he said of the proposed border barrier. “But, believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”
It’s not just Democrats opposed to Trump’s border wall, but also GOP leadership in Congress and the American public. Most Americans don’t want the wall, don’t think Mexico will pay for it and don’t believe it will happen. It is only Trump’s nationalist anti-immigrant sycophant supporters who demand his border wall folly.
A president has a constitutional duty to manage the government effectively and efficiently, and to keep the government open and operating — especially at a time when there is a natural disaster unfolding in the Houston, Texas area at this moment.
This is the first time in American history that a president has vowed to abuse the powers of his office by threatening a government shutdown, i.e., to take the country hostage and to demand extortion (congressional appropriations) for his personal pet project of a border wall.
The New York Times reports, Shut Down the Government, and This Time, Investors Will Care:
[W]ith his words, the president managed to rattle investors in two big financial markets — United States Treasuries and stocks.
In recent years, government shutdowns have become so common that markets have either embraced them or shrugged them off. But as investors absorb the possibility of a closure this fall, market tremors are likely to intensify, experts say. The past will not necessarily be prologue this time around.
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Investors are grappling with two matters right now: the need to raise the nation’s debt ceiling in September so the government can pay its obligations, and the desire to have a federal budget in place by Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown.
Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to reassure investors on the first matter. “We’re going to get the debt ceiling passed,” Mr. Mnuchin vowed at an event in Louisville, Ky., on Monday. He also predicted that the ceiling would be raised cleanly — that is, without spending reforms attached to the increase that are intended to move the government toward a balanced budget.
But the next day Mr. Trump invoked the government shutdown, spooking Treasury investors. Faced with the possibility of problems with both the debt ceiling and a shutdown, investors holding T-bills maturing in early October began selling. Short-term Treasury investors, like the institutions that oversee money market funds, can’t afford to wait around to see if they’ll be paid on time. It’s easier to bail out of the holdings that could be affected.
Stocks also weakened on the prospect of a shutdown — a very different investor response than has been seen during recent government closures.
Jonathan Allen opines at Roll Call that Trump Wants Credit for a Shutdown:
President Donald Trump is taking an unusual risk for a president: He’s setting himself up as the central player in a possible government shutdown.
Trump’s tactics don’t line up with the conventional presidential strategy of avoiding government shutdowns — or at least sidestepping blame.
It should be hard for him to point a finger at Republicans in Congress when he is openly threatening to cause a shutdown. It will be even harder for him or his increasingly gun-shy allies on Capitol Hill to blame Democrats, because Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House. And it will be much easier for Congress to pass a spending bill without the money than with it.
That is, the old rules say he’s setting himself up to take it on the chin, both legislatively and in terms of becoming a lightning rod for voters who suddenly can’t get the services that their tax dollars pay for.
So, what is Trump up to?
I think he wants to take credit for the wall and a shutdown — at least he’s positioning himself that way.
It’s hard to think of convictions more core to the rise of the Tea Party than opposition to illegal immigration and a reinterpretation of small-government conservatism into no-government conservatism. By courting a shutdown, Trump can be a champion of both principles.
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If Trump were unwilling to shut down the government to get the wall, he’d be demonstrating to his voters that he doesn’t have the grit or determination to go all the way for their shared top legislative priority. He would be showing weakness; and that is neither Trump’s strength nor a way to please his base.
His premise, for now, seems to be that a government shutdown would cause so much political pain for lawmakers that they would ultimately choose to pass a spending bill with money for the wall rather than continue to suffer the wrath of constituents bereft of government services.
But one essential truth remains: most Americans don’t want the wall. It’s hard to see how halting government operations will force Congress to fund it.
“So, Trump has backed himself into a political corner, but it’s the one that is familiar and comfortable to him. He is standing with his base. Maybe he will back down in the end, but it seems that is his option of last resort.”
Last Thursday, Trump launched a preemptive attack to attempt to deflect blame onto the GOP leadership for the possible failures with the budget, raising the debt ceiling, and a government shutdown at the end of September. Trump Slams Ryan, McConnell Over Debt Ceiling ‘Mess’:
President Donald Trump on Thursday criticized Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying they created a debt ceiling “mess” by refusing his advice.
After the White House and McConnell’s office on Wednesday denied a recent New York Times report about tensions — including a profanity-filled phone call — between the two, the president started Thursday by attacking the Senate leader.
The Twitter strike also came a day after Ryan had pushed back on Trump’s threat to shut down the government unless he gets money for his proposed southern border wall.
Trump’s tweets also shined a fresh light on the ill will and distrust fueling much of the Republican disunity that has left it without a major legislative accomplishment during Trump’s seven-month tenure while controlling both chambers on the Hill and the White House.
The president wrote that he suggested to Ryan and McConnell that they attach a measure addressing the country’s borrowing limit to a just-passed veterans bill, which Trump said would have ensured “easy approval.”
In a second tweet, Trump criticized the GOP leaders for not tying the debt ceiling to the veterans bill, saying their refusal means “now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!”
One senior GOP aide told Roll Call it was not clear whether the White House or GOP leadership on Capitol Hill first proposed the idea, which was eventually scuttled.
About 90 minutes after those tweets, the president fired off another saying the “only problem” he has with McConnell is the Senate majority leader’s inability to pass a health overhaul measure despite promising to do so for seven years.
The White House on Wednesday evening sought to tamp down talk that Trump and McConnell were at odds.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two “remain united on many shared priorities, including middle class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall, and other important issues.”
“They will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the president’s Cabinet,” Sanders said in a statement. “White House and leadership staff are coordinating regarding the details of those meetings.”
But the statement, notably, did not say a New York Times report about an expletive-laden phone call between the GOP leaders was inaccurate.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is pushing a “clean” debt ceiling increase, though some Republican lawmakers want to attach federal spending cuts. Democrats, who will be asked to supply the votes to push the measure across the finish line, are staunchly opposed to that idea.
As the Washington Post reports, Trump distances himself from GOP lawmakers to avoid blame if agenda stalls:
President Trump is strategically separating himself from Republicans in Congress, an extraordinary move to deflect blame if the GOP agenda continues to flounder.
Trump deepened the fissures in the party on Thursday when he accused the top two leaders on Capitol Hill of mismanaging a looming showdown over the nation’s borrowing authority. Republican lawmakers and aides responded to the president’s hostility with broadsides and warnings of their own.
Frustrated by months of relative inaction at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and emboldened by his urge to disrupt the status quo, Trump is testing whether his own political following will prove more potent and loyal than that of his party and its leaders in both houses of Congress.
The growing divide comes at an inopportune moment for Washington, however. In addition to having to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscal crisis, Republicans face September deadlines to pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown, as well as pressure to fulfill a key Trump campaign promise to rewrite the nation’s tax laws.
What could possibly go wrong? This is the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Strait. To paraphrase Bette Davis (Margo) in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy month!”