Shutting Down DC
Published August 24, 2017 / Updated August 7, 2020

Shutting Down DC

Trump promised he’d shut down the government to secure funding for the wall

by Chris Thomas

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Another aspect of President Trump’s rally in Phoenix was a reiteration of his campaign pledge to construct a physical wall between the United States and Mexico. This column has covered Trump’s Wall before, noting that it “will cost many billions of dollars and contribute little to border security.” Nonetheless, Republicans are divided on the issue, naming it either as a critical investment in US border security or a praiseworthy endeavor but not a “hill worth dying on.”

In Phoenix, President Trump reiterated a threat he has made before — that he will force a government shutdown over the issue of funding for the border wall. He can do that by refusing to sign into law a budget that does not include funds for wall construction. Such a budget is likely to reach his desk, however, because Senate Democrats can and likely will filibuster any budget that promises the billions of dollars necessary to undertake the project.

And so there is a stand-off. Congress cannot enact a budget the President won’t sign and the President can’t sign a budget Congress won’t pass.

Here’s what happens next:

There are three ways the stalemate may be broken.

  1. A republican capitulation: Trump may be bluffing and the Congress may be willing to call his bluff. If Democrats stand firm and Republicans send Trump a budget with no funding for the wall, he may sign it to avoid a shut-down. Doing so would weaken the already-embattled President significantly, however, given his recent promise to use a shut-down to secure funding.
  2. A democratic capitulation: Democrats may cave on the issue of funding the wall. Five Democratic senators are up for reelection in states that President Trump won by large margins in 2016. On this, Trump’s signature issue, they may be unwilling to refuse him if they fear Trump’s base. After those five, Senate Republicans would need just three more Democrats to overcome a filibuster.
  3. A nuclear option: President Trump has been calling for the Senate to abandon the filibuster entirely for some time now. The Senate could strike the filibuster entirely by a simple-majority vote, allowing funding for the wall to then pass with the assent of the 52 Republican Senators.

Or, just a government shutdown. That’s not a broken stalemate of course, but if the Democrats remain firm in refusing the allow funding of a wall and Republicans are either unwilling or unable to strong-arm them, Trump may very well allow the government to shut down in hopes that the mounting political pressure of the shutdown will force Congress to give him what he wants.

Once a shutdown happens it is likely to be a prolonged one. Historically, government shutdowns or the threat of a shutdown hurts obstructionists in Congress more than the President. In these cases, Congress usually gives in, but Mr Trump is already politically weak and only 36% of Americans support building a wall. With approval ratings like that and the mid-terms just a year away, Congress may prefer to take their chances with the voters.

Regardless of the political calculus, the longer a shutdown drags out the angrier people will become and the more damage it will do to the country and its finances. Once the lights go out in Washington and the federal workforce is sent home politics can get very strange very fast.

Tell Congress what you think

How this goes depends entirely upon what the Congress is willing to do. Text RESIST to 50409 to tell your representatives or Senators what you think should be in the budget they send to the White House.

Who to talk to

Budgets must originate in the House and pass both houses in order to land on the President’s desk so contacting any Congressman or Senator is important but the following are the Senators and Congressmen most likely to be pivotal on this issue:

  • Senator Jeff FLake (R-AZ): Skeptical of building the wall unless Mexico pays for it.
  • Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY): Senate majority leader; hesitant to strike filibuster rule
  • Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI): Speaker of the House; unwilling to shut down government to fund the wall
  • Senator Dean Heller (R-NV): Clinton carried Nevada in 2016 and Heller only won with 46% of the vote in 2012. He’s polling at about 22% right now.
  • Senator Jon Tester (D-MT): One of the five Democrats running for reelection deep in Trump country.
  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND): One of the five Democrats running for reelection deep in Trump country.
  • Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV): One of the five Democrats running for reelection deep in Trump country.
  • Senator Joe Donnelly (D-ID): One of the five Democrats running for reelection deep in Trump country.
  • Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO): One of the five Democrats running for reelection deep in Trump country.

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