Shutdown power struggle escalates
President Trump’s proposal to trade border wall funding for temporary protections for “Dreamers” appeared dead this week, after Democrats rejected his terms and said they would not negotiate until Republicans agreed to end the partial shutdown of the federal government. Trump offered to exchange temporary immigrant protections for $5.7 billion to begin adding “steel barriers in high-priority locations” to 654 miles of existing border fencing. Those protections included a three-year extension on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, covering about 700,000 immigrants illegally brought to America as children—the Dreamers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a GOP bill incorporating Trump’s proposal a reasonable compromise. “The opportunity to end all this is staring us right in the face,” he said. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi branded Trump’s proposal a “nonstarter” because the protections are temporary and attached to new immigration restrictions. She also said Democrats won’t negotiate as long as Trump continues the shutdown—which has left 800,000 federal employees without pay. If Trump can “hold the employees hostage now,” Pelosi said, “they’re hostage forever.”
As their power struggle escalated, Pelosi told Trump he should postpone next week’s scheduled State of the Union address until the shutdown ends. Trump responded with a letter defiantly declaring he would give the annual address in the House as planned, but retreated when Pelosi said he wouldn’t be invited. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll, meanwhile, found that 54 percent of voters blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown, while 35 percent blame the Democrats.
With no end to the shutdown in sight, 800,000 federal workers were on the verge of missing a second consecutive paycheck. In San Francisco, 150 Coast Guard families lined up at a food bank for groceries. The FBI agents’ union warned the shutdown had stalled major investigations and become a national security threat. Poor, elderly, and disabled tenants residing in federally subsidized housing faced a moratorium on rental vouchers—and threats of eviction. As airport security lines grew, a record 10 percent of TSA agents called in sick on Sunday in apparent protest at not being paid.
What the editorials said
Democrats are right to reject Trump’s DACA offer, said the Los Angeles Times. The offer of temporary relief “wouldn’t make the Dreamers much better off than they are now,” as the Supreme Court said this week it wouldn’t likely consider their case until 2020. Democrats are also right to refuse to negotiate until the shutdown is over. To do so would be tantamount to “encouraging Trump to take the government hostage again the next time he wants something Congress won’t give him.”
Trump’s offer of a temporary DACA amnesty “was a reasonable proposal,” said National Review—and the fact Speaker Pelosi “rejected it out of hand” is telling. Put simply, she sees no downside to intransigence. “Her base fully backs her maximalist position, and the media never call her out.” It’s clear Trump “wants a negotiation and Pelosi wants a humiliation.”
What the columnists said
Trump so-called compromise is a “total sham,” said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. First of all, the DACA kids already had legal protection until Trump yanked it away in 2017 by executive order. The Senate bill that incorporated his temporary DACA protection was “loaded up with poison pills” impossible for Democrats to swallow. In the fine print were provisions banning desperate Central American children from applying for asylum at the border and requiring them to apply in their home countries. It would limit asylum admissions to a tiny 15,000 a year, and significantly raise the bar for judging asylum claims, requiring that any approval be “in the national interest”—a vague term designed to justify mass rejections.
Why won’t Democrats negotiate? asked John Fund in NationalReview.com. Simple: Pelosi knows “President Trump has been hurt more politically than the Democrats by the government shutdown,” and her base, afflicted with “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” views him as “a devil they must defeat at all costs.” That means not even a single nickel for a wall—an unreasonable stance that may soon shift “the onus for the shutdown” onto Democrats. The American people’s patience is running thin, said Naomi Lim and Daniel Chaitin in the Washington Examiner. But Trump is no less “walled in.” Doing nothing is politically untenable; and yet offering even a temporary DACA “amnesty” leaves his base howling over perceived betrayal.
This stalemate could go on for a long time, said Ronald Brownstein in CNN.com. This power struggle is not really about a literal wall anymore, but the “powerful symbol” it’s become. Older and rural Americans want the government to halt or at least slow the country’s “growing ethnic and racial diversity.” Progressives see the wall as a “symbol of racism.” Sadly, the wall proposed as a barrier between America and Mexico has been transformed into a metaphorical one rising on the “fault line separating blue from red America.”
President Trump may find another location to give his State of the Union address, said Kevin Liptak in CNN.com. In early January, Pelosi invited Trump, as is customary, to address Congress on Jan. 29, but then cited security concerns in requesting he postpone until after the shutdown concluded. Trump, in an apparent tit-for-tat, then canceled a scheduled trip Pelosi and other Democrats were to make to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This week, Trump sent Pelosi a letter announcing his plan to come, but Pelosi responded that she would refuse to take the necessary procedural steps to convene a joint session of Congress. “It’s really a shame, what’s happening with the Democrats,” Trump said. “They’ve become radicalized.” His aides were looking at other options, ranging from delivering the address from the Oval Office—a setting Trump dislikes because there’s no audience present—to another White House location with room for seats, or even a campaign-style rally outside Washington.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty, Reuters, AP